The WPI’s Digital Corpus: A New Model for Publishing Catalogues Raisonnés

The Digital Corpus is an innovative model created by the WPI for publishing digital catalogues raisonnés. A “corpus”—a defined body of artworks that comprise a part or the whole of a particular artist’s oeuvre—is presented in the form of a searchable database.  At the core of this approach is the visible distinction between artworks that have been verified by the WPI’s committees, which are displayed in color and with full cataloguing, and those that have yet to be researched, examined, and approved by our committees.  

The WPI developed the concept of the digital corpus in order to reconcile our mission to publish catalogue raisonnés, which take many years to complete, with the desire to share our research as quickly as possible via our digital platform. Built in collaboration with, a nonprofit that supports the development of digital publications, the WPI’s digital corpus relies on a complex publication and versioning system that enables researchers to continuously collect information for all artworks, regardless of their verification status, and when ready, periodically publish time-stamped editions of the individual artwork entries online. 

Initially, the WPI presented the digital corpus as the means to an end: a working platform that would ultimately be superseded by a complete catalogue raisonné. Since the first digital corpus platform was put to use five years ago, the WPI has embraced the model of the digital corpus as a dynamic yet reliable means for publishing up-to-date scholarship for all of our projects.  We view it as the critical technological methodology that undergirds our approach to research and best serves our users. 

What does it mean to verify a work of art?

All artworks presented in the digital corpus come from a foundational list, whether that is the artist’s own records, a previously published catalogue raisonné, or a carefully curated selection. Each artwork is provisionally included in the catalogue raisonné project. 

The digital corpus presents two groupings of these provisionally included artworks: those that have been verified by the project’s committee and those that have not yet been verified. Verification is the process of corroborating that information contained in the WPI archival records corresponds with a specific, located object. In order for an artwork to be verified, it typically needs to be physically examined—or in the case of artworks that belong to museum collections, studied and vetted—by the catalogue raisonné committee. 

An artwork that has gone through this process is published in color with full cataloging. This includes the examination date and status, which clearly states when and how the artwork details (title, date, medium, dimensions, and signature) are collected. For utmost clarity, a “verified” icon is also displayed. 

An artwork that is not yet verified is published in black and white, with only title and date. 

Sometimes, works that are not listed in the digital corpus at all are presented to the committee for review. Upon research and inspection, the committee can decide whether the work should be added to the corpus. 

Submitting works for verification

Catalogues raisonnés are enormous undertakings that can take decades to complete, and an author’s determinations are oftentimes withheld from the public until the entire catalogue is published. The WPI’s submission process, therefore, was designed to accommodate collectors, dealers, and auction houses who would like to have the artwork in their possession considered for inclusion in a more timely fashion. Those interested are invited to submit their artwork and it is researched and examined by committee on a quarterly basis.   

This model was inspired by the Wildenstein Institute’s tradition of providing “Letters of Attestation” – physical documents that indicate the committee’s decision about an artwork’s inclusion in a forthcoming printed catalogue raisonné. Historically, these letters remained with the artwork and its owner. In contrast, by sharing the findings for an artwork online immediately following a committee review, the process of publication is responsive and the project is continually recentered as the most current and authoritative source on the artist’s oeuvre. This responsiveness to submission requests builds momentum and incentivizes owners of unverified and unrecorded works to contact the catalogue raisonné research team. 

Simultaneously, researchers also take the initiative to expand and develop the project in areas that are most critical to the understanding of the artist’s oeuvre. The WPI makes these proactive requests to current owners to examine and verify certain works on a case-by-case basis and at our own discretion. 

The Tom Wesselmann Digital Corpus

The Tom Wesselmann Digital Corpus, launched in June 2020, was the first such project initiated by the Wildenstein Plattner Institute (WPI). 

The WPI used the artist’s own records as the basis for the Corpus. This was possible because Wesselmann meticulously documented his artworks in several ledgers that were transcribed by the artist’s estate and imported into the WPI’s cataloging tool. The WPI maintained the artist’s own categorizations of his oeuvre: artworks he described as unique major works and oil studies are each documented with an individual record in the Corpus. Prints and multiples are published at the series level in a separate section. Because the WPI does not publish individual prints and multiples, all the series are displayed in color. (The WPI does not include drawings in the digital corpus at this time.)

As noted above, verified works correlate to a specific, located object that the committee has determined to be a part of the artist’s oeuvre. Unique artworks and oil studies are published in color, include full cataloging, and, if applicable, the date of their examination. See, for example, Great American Nude #2 (pictured below).

In the case of Tom Wesselmann, the digital corpus is enriched by the Wesselmann Oral Histories, the Tom Wesselmann Papers, and will continue to expand with essays and a standalone exhibition history and bibliography. 

Claude Monet: The Revised Catalogue Raisonné, The Pastels

The WPI’s Claude Monet: The Revised Catalogue Raisonné; The Pastels, presents another application of the digital corpus. Recognizing the unparalleled value of Daniel Wildenstein’s catalogue raisonné, originally published in five volumes between 1974 and 1991, but also the inevitable need to update the cataloguing, the WPI used the printed catalogue raisonné as the foundation for the new digital publication. 

The digital corpus model, which prioritizes verification as the basis for responsible publication, enabled the committee to display their work thus far on the new catalogue raisonné. Prior to publication in December 2023, the WPI Monet committee reassessed the pastels that were originally published in the 1991 volume, amending some of those conclusions and adding more artworks that have since come to light.  

The WPI hopes that the Monet project demonstrates how previously published catalogues raisonnés can be utilized as the basis for future digital editions. 

Forthcoming: Renoir, Les natures mortes and Romare Bearden, unique works from 1964-1969

While the digital corpus model allows a published catalogue raisonné, like Monet’s Pastels, to continue to grow, it also allows a new project to begin publishing their research as it progresses. This is the case for the WPI’s forthcoming digital catalogue raisonné projects for two very different artists: Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Romare Bearden. Both publications will rely upon the digital corpus model. Both pose unique challenges. 

The first installment of the Renoir catalogue raisonné will focus on the artist’s still lifes. Owing in part to the records of the Durand-Ruel archives, we will be able to display archival photographs of the artworks which are known to exist but have yet to be seen by the WPI Renoir committee. Despite this valuable archival foundation, there is still much to discover of Renoir’s oeuvre. Historical catalogues raisonnés require a critical reassessment, and our researchers encounter new artworks often when they are submitted to the WPI for committee review. This ever-evolving understanding of the artist’s production epitomizes the need for the digital corpus methodology, which provides a responsive, yet reliable, process for considering new artworks.  

Likewise, the Bearden committee and the catalogue raisonné project researchers have had to develop strict criteria as they assemble the basis for the artist’s corpus. 

Bearden was a remarkably prolific artist; when the WPI started working with the artist’s foundation, we digitized approximately 2500 artwork dossiers that were compiled over the course of many years. It quickly became clear, however, that many artworks were not recorded within the files and that duplicate files existed for the same artwork. Without the foundation of an artist’s archive or a previously published catalogue raisonné, it is only through a combination of examination, research, and connoisseurial expertise that we can even begin to publish our findings. Like the Renoir catalogue raisonné project, we fully expect for the corpus to exist as an ever-expanding resource. However, as we learned from the example of the Wesselmann Digital Corpus, we hope that this model will also generate excitement and engagement, and lead to the discovery and verification of new works. We are presenting the first installment of this experimental approach in 2025, which will include artworks created between 1964 and 1969. 

The Paul Gauguin Catalogue Raisonné

In May 2021, the WPI published the first installment of Gauguin: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, 1891–1903. This project was the culmination of decades of work by Dr. Richard Brettell and Sylvie Crussard, and all artworks are presented in color with full cataloguing. We did not include the verification or examination status at the time of this release. 

As we prepare to update the catalogue raisonné later this year with artworks executed between 1889 and 1891, the WPI will apply an element of the digital corpus model to all of the Gauguin artworks: the examination status and the verification icon. 

With this update, the Gauguin catalogue raisonné will demonstrate how the WPI’s approach to digital publication is enhanced by new developments and features of Navigating.Art’s technology. Date stamping and verification icons provide readers with a clearer understanding of the research completed for each work as well as what remains to be examined.

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