How to research a famous artist’s work before purchasing

salvador_dali_catalogue_raisonne_etchings_bookimagesFor those concerned about identification and authentication of famous original art, catalogues raisonne are invaluable information sources. Catalogues raisonne are large illustrated books used by major auction houses, museums and top dealers to help identify, date and authenticate prints. They are also a great starting point for the beginning collector, offering an illustrated survey and description of the artist’s work.
A catalogue raisonne is a book or series of books covering either the artist’s entire body of work or specific areas (paintings, sculpture, prints, area of prints). They are produced by the top experts in the field, including professors, gallery owners, museums curators and the artist’s publishers. Input and approval is often given by the artist or artist’s estate.

While catalogues raisonne vary in quality, a good one will be extensively illustrated and give most of the essentials of the artist’s original prints. These essentials can include dimensions of a print, type of printing used (etching, engraving, other), number of prints, editions, how a print is signed and numbered, the type of paper used, and so on. A catalogue often includes helpful biographical and artistic information, such as describing the printing techniques and styles. Some offer samples of the artist’s signature. Some catalogues are so lavishly illustrated, they are worth the price simply as coffee table books and can be enjoyed by non collectors.

The essentialness of a catalogue raisonne is that it shows what prints are recognized as genuine works by the artist. While there will be some legitimate uncatalogued prints, for the most part the collector should stick to what is catalogued. If a print for sale is not listed and detailed in a catalogue raisonne or called genuine by other substantive source (expert opinion, authoritative article), the collector should not buy.

If the least that collectors of the world did was to determine if a for sale print is listed as authentic in the catalogue raisonne and that the bare basics (size, signature, numbering, etc) matches the catalogue listing, the sale of forgeries and fakes would be reduced by about 95%.

Obtaining a particular artist’s catalogue can be difficult. While catalogues by some artist’s can be bought at popular bookstores, they are sometimes expensive. Some are extremely difficult to find. Luckily, a growing number of catalogues are online, including those of Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.

For the hard to find catalogues raisonne, the collector should look high and low. This includes looking at used bookstores, libraries and asking around. Some galleries or dealers have libraries and will let collectors reference them.

In an online-auction description, a good seller may tell the bidders that a print is officially “listed” as genuine, by listing the catalogue’s title, author and the catalogue number for the print. This is a convenience for the bidders and will often boost the sales price.

Online sources for finding catalogues raisonne

Free Online Catalogues Raisonne and Information Sources:

John James Audubon:
brief but useful info page

Marc Chagall:

Leroy Neiman:
Neiman’s official site, maintained by his publisher. Includes commentary for collectors by the artist.

Pablo Picasso: 
This site is run by a Texas A & M Professor of Spanish Studies.

Andy Warhol :
This site is maintained by a gallery that published many of Warhol’s works. The information is endorsed by the Warhol estate.

Winslow Homer’s Harper’s Woodcuts:
Not a comprehensive data source, but pictures all of Homer’s prints for the popular 1800s magazine

Gemini G.E.L. Online Catalogue Raisonne : 
Famous printing house, gives great detail on prints made by their famous printers including Warhol and Lichtenstein. Detailed images.

Titles Search:

The Print Council Index to Oeuvre-Catalogues of Prints by European and American Artists. This lists about all of the catalogues raisonne ever published:

Online Booksellers:

Barnes and Noble


Alibris (Specializes in rare books, so offers a larger selection)

eBay (Check regularly, and you will often see rare catalogues for auction.)

Other information sources:

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