JMW Turner:  the source Shipwreck, the Rescue, JMW Turner R.A;  Turner expertise, and curatorial expert opinion,  Butlin and Joll, The Paintings of JMW. Turner , Yale University Press, The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford University Press                              
                                          Butlin and Joll: Turner Catalogue Raisonné :
                                                                   The Paintings of JMW Turner
                                      Martin Butlin and Graham Setters, lost in the BJ catalogue (2001)

                                                        Art World’s Dirty Little Secret
                                                                                              r malcolm setters / graham setters

"As we worked our way around the room discussing other old masters, we eventually made it to our small library/computer room. I cornered Martin, forced a pen into his hand, and got him to sign our copies of his Butlin and Joll catalogue The Paintings of J. M. W. Turner and The Oxford Companion to JMW Turner, plus other books he had been involved with. He became reflective and explained a few of the trials, tribulations and ecstasies of several of them.                                     
Martin Butlin in Penticton signing books in the author’s study. The one in-hand is titled Turner Watercolours authored by Martin in 1962

While signing the Companion he noted the cost, “I wish you hadn’t bought yours, it’s so expensive (Martin had previously offered to bring a copy as a gift).” When I suggested it must have had a wide distribution, Martin bellowed, “well, haven’t sold many I can tell you that!” He continued:

"We’ve got the figures. Luke Herrmann (the co-author, along with the late Evelyn Joll), it’s very funny, of the three of us, Luke Herrmann has far the most money, inherited money and so on, and he was the one that was really concerned, always saying, 'when are we going to get more royalties.' I said, 'we’ve had an advance, we’re never going to get any more royalties.' We got a recent statement: 2000 copies have been sent to the United States; and 1000 have been sold in England; and a few elsewhere to people like you. I said, 'We’re going to be asked to pay some of our royalties back, so keep quiet Luke, I said.'” (Chuckle, chuckle)


     It is doubtful that Martin should worry; the book will ultimately be in great demand as a quick reference on Turner. Martin was more positive about the Butlin and Joll two volume set: “That did pretty well. The 1st edition sold out, which is a very rare mistake by John Nichol. John Nichol is brilliant. He was at Oxford University Press, and then he took over the London end of Yale University Press. In a way the tail wags the dog, because he produced more exciting books, he more-or-less tells Yale in Newhaven what he wants to do, and they say go ahead and do it. I don’t know what the figures were, but we got a second edition, which is marvelous. I think that’s still nominally available...” 

It is only reasonable to accept that one important purpose for producing a catalogue raisonné  is to limit an artist's exposure, and the vulnerability of the artist's prices. These catalogues appear to have evolved by the early 1900s to appease the need by the art trade to protect those ever so productive French Impressionists, or at least to protect the best interests of the dealers who represented them. It was not until modern economic principles were finely tuned by Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler and applied to the art world  that the stage for this protection was truly and properly set. His uncles, who were astute financial wizards involved with banking and mining, tutored the young D. H. Kahnweiler and eventually backed a career that ultimately made him one of the most powerful forces in the art world. (see P. Assouline 1988) Picasso and a handful of prolific contemporaries freely admitted that without Kahnweiler they might have starved. First and foremost Kahnweiler knew that limiting the supply of anything in the marketplace drives up prices, this he was largely able to do in his own corner of the art world by 'contracting' the entire output of his stable of artists. He was also involved with art-publications at the grass-roots level.


The benefits of a catalogue are numerous nonetheless: including those associated with comparing a broad spectrum of an artist's oeuvre and providing certain guarantees as to authenticity, but with the special interests that are bound to develop around the commercial value of an artist's work, and also, the cost of revising a large catalogue, one might be wary when dealing with some of those cataloguer/experts. Motives are often obscure.


Finally, condemning or at least ignoring a potential new discovery is free and easy, while authenticating one is often perceived as carrying undue risk.


                                                                   Art World’s Dirty Little Secret


 See Legal Fears

                             Hands: the Orrock Ehrenbrietstein , added discussion from the Butlin visit

                       Institutional Evolution  Connoisseurship  Rembrandt conundrum  Expertise