The Catalogue Raisonné: Archives and Documentation in the Digital Age

Claude Monet, Le Bassin aux nymphéas, reflets du saule (W. 1971)
Ex. Matsukata Collection, now on view at The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

On July 10, 2019, the Wildenstein Plattner Institute had the pleasure of participating in the landmark colloquium, “The Catalogue Raisonné: Archives and Documentation in the Digital Age,” held at The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Japan. During the day’s proceedings, our team members showcased highlights from our newly-digitized archives and demonstrated the capabilities of our interactive cataloguing and archiving tool, CAT.  We were honored to discuss our work in this prestigious forum, where the preservation of cultural heritage was of chief importance.

The audience of nearly 200 art historians, curators, archivists, and art world professionals who assembled for the occasion were eager to share information about the advancements in digital art history and the great cultural utility of catalogues raisonnés and archives. The conference made clear that scholars around the world are striving for this same goal, and must encourage and support one another to continue this critical work.  

As the custodians of archival information, art historians have much to benefit from the efforts to document, preserve, and share information about the important objects that shape our cultural histories. In the age of digital repositories, geographic distances are becoming irrelevant, and rarefied cultural documentation–once the exclusive domain of scholars–is increasingly available to anyone who is interested.  Such a thing would have been inconceivable only a decade ago; just imagine what we will be able to do a decade from now.

The colloquium coincided with the museum’s 60th anniversary and its monumental exhibition of the legendary collection of Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950), the Japanese industrialist and shipping magnate. During the first quarter of the 20th century, Matsukata amassed one of the most impressive European art collections in the world, including works by Monet, Gauguin, Rodin, and Van Gogh. Although he was forced to dissolve his collection during the financial crisis of the late 1920s, Matsukata was primarily responsible for bringing the first influx of Impressionist art to Asia.  The artworks that he imported to Japan are now in the permanent collection of the National Museum of Western Art. 160 works from Matsukata’s original collection are featured in this commemorative exhibition, which runs until September 23 in Tokyo.

WPI Archival Photo of Le Bassin aux nymphéas, reflets du saule in its original state

The Matsukata exhibition was the brainchild of Dr. Megumi Jingaoka, who had come to the WPI last fall to research the early history of the large Monet Le Bassin aux nymphéas, reflets du saule (W. 1971), which Matsukata had left behind in France in the 1920s.  The picture had been “rediscovered” in 2016 in the holdings of the Louvre Museum, having suffered significant damage during a flood.  With the assistance of the WPI research staff, Dr. Jingaoka found detailed information in the WPI archives about the origins of the picture and early photographs of the work it is original, uncompromised state.  Using these images the museum was able to digitally re-constitute the composition on a large-format screen. That digital rendering and the actual canvas are currently on view at the museum.

Claude Monet’s Le Bassin aux nymphéas, reflets du saule prior to restoration

For more information about The Matsukata Collection: A One-Hundred Year Odyssey, please visit the museum’s website.

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