Behind the Scenes: The Research Process

12/08/2017     News and Film

Despite how effortless we strive to make things appear—from our initial call for consignments to the day of the sale—our internal auction process represents months of work, culminating in the excitement of the auction itself. There are countless steps—and people—involved from the moment a piece of art arrives at our office until the day it leaves with its new owner. Still, there 's no denying the thrill we each get as specialists when we have the opportunity to get up close and personal with art by some of the biggest names in our field as part of a normal workday. After we 've agreed to offer a piece at auction, our next steps as specialists revolves around research, and fine art research almost always involves a trip to the library to dive into a catalogue raisonné. A catalogue raisonné is the comprehensive listing of all known works by a particular artist, and is trusted by scholars and collectors alike as a reliable encyclopedic source. To fine art specialists, they are essential. Part of our cataloguing process includes checking a catalogue raisonné to see if the artwork in question appears, or, if it 's a print, if the numbering, signature, edition information, or dimensions match the listed details. All of this information will be added to our cataloguing, giving interested bidders an assurance that the piece features in the catalogue, and where. Depending on how prolific the artist was, and whether there are multiple volumes of the raisonné (either by decade or medium, or updated editions) these can be massive tomes, which are kept in special locked sections of only a handful of institutional libraries around the world.If we can 't personally flip through the raisonné ourselves—because the only copy on this side of the world is located across the country, which isn 't all that rare—we reach out to a librarian. A quick email and their invaluable help later, and we have a scanned page from the catalogue raisonné that illustrates the artwork. There are more than a few of us in the department who have had our lives made much easier (and our catalogue deadlines met) by a really helpful librarian.We also like to search for and verify any additional literature sources in w hich the artwork was included, if applicable. These can include articles from academic journals, scholarly books and exhibition catalogues in which the artwork was included. Depending on when the exhibition was held—if it predated the internet, for example—not all of this information would be available online, easily searchable. As with a catalogue raisonné and other sources, we sometimes have to hunt down old exhibition catalogues. These are often harder to find, and usually kept at the museums and institutions which held the exhibition. But if they exist, we like to at least look into them. A detailed exhibition history obviously helps fill in some of the cataloguing, but it also adds to the overall story of the piece: where it was and when. We include as much verifiable information as we can find, all with an aim to establishing, confidently, as thorough a background as possible.Our specialists and cataloguers will then go on to take a detailed condition report (which may or may not involve breaking out a black light, depending on the medium), arrange for photography, and, of course, assign an estimate. We then repeat this process for every lot in the sale, and then we have our catalogue. We 're oversimplifying it, of course, but that 's just a small peak behind the curtain.Ready to Consign? Contact one of our Specialists now.