Help with cataloguing your art collection

Do you collect art or have you inherited a collection? Do you know exactly what you’ve got? It’s not always clear and a number of my clients have requested help with cataloguing their collections. This post outlines how we take the first steps, and what information we put in the catalogue.

To adapt Shakespeare a little:

be not afraid of art collections: some are born with art collections, some achieve art collections, and some have art collections thrust upon ’em.

And in all those cases, it is easy to lose track of what you own. If you have inherited a collection, it may be more a case of not knowing rather than losing track. I can give you help with cataloguing.

Girl holding a crook, with two lambs. Help with cataloguin

Keep your art safe, secure and dry

The first and essential step is to make sure that your art is safe, secure and dry. These are particularly important considerations with inherited collections.

Is it insured and held in a secure location with an alarm system?

What about damp? It is surprising how often paintings, prints and sculpture are stored in unsuitable places. Stacking paper or canvas against outside walls, for example, is generally a bad idea, even if the house does not feel particularly damp.

To keep the collection safe, secure and dry may involve moving your art to another location.

Help with cataloguing

The aim of cataloguing is to list all the pieces you hold with their title, name of artist, date of creation, provenance and any other relevant information.

Firstly, we collect together all paperwork, including receipts from art dealers, framers and so on, as evidence of provenance. This is the record of ownership of a work of art or an antique. It’s a guide to authenticity or quality. I also include ephemera, such as cards, invitations to private views and so on.

Then, we begin to go through the art, piece by piece. We take a photo and label the piece. The label may be a provisional one if we are not certain about some points.

We enter the piece on our list or database in progress.

Finally, we cross-check the piece against any lists (probably both complete and incomplete) made over the years. These might include, for example, auction lists, valuation for probate, and personal estimates of value.

Statue of Julius Caesar in Rome. Help with cataloguing

Hmm. Interesting …

Interestingly, cataloguing can shed new light on art and owners often find themselves looking at the pieces in different ways.

Getting help with cataloguing your art collection puts all the facts at your fingertips. Now you’re in a good position to decide whether to display, store or sell your art.