For online auction sellers and collectors of prints by a famous artist, from Pablo Picasso to Norman Rockwell, a "catalogue raisonne" is an invaluable information resource. Catalogues raisonne are large illustrated books used by Sotheby's, Christies, major museums and advanced collectors to help identify 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 an artist's entire body work or a specific areas (paintings, sculpture, prints, other). They are produced by top experts in the field, including art professors, dealers and museums curators. They are often assisted or otherwise approved 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 catalogues are so lavishly and colorfully illustrated, they are worth the price simply as picture books for your coffee table.
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, the beginner 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 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 usually expensive. Some are extremely difficult to find. Luckily, a few 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
The Print Council Index to Oeuvre-Catalogues of Prints by European and American Artists. This lists about all of the catalogues raisonnes ever published:
Barnes and Noble http://www.bn.com
Alibris http://www.alibris.com (Specializes in rare books, so offers a larger selection)
eBay http://www.ebay.com (Check regularly, and you will often see rare catalogues for auction.)
Free Online Catalogues Raisonne:
Marc Chagall The Printed Graphic Work
The Official Leroy Neiman Web site
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.
Other information sources:
Christies Auction House:
Famous auction house, provides online images and descriptions of many prints currently in auction
Sotheby's Auction House
Images and descriptions of current auctions