Reviewed February 2019
Jessica Hronchek, Associate Professor and Performing and Visual Arts Librarian
Van Wylen Library, Hope College
The Sam Francis Online Catalogue Raisonné Project (SFOCR) introduces viewers to the earliest works in the career of this American 20th-century artist. It currently includes his works from 1945-1949 and will expand chronologically beginning in early 2019. Registration is required, but then only an email address is needed to reenter the site. This is an artwork-centric resource; those looking to research the artist himself will continue to want to consult the extensive print scholarship on Francis, as there is limited essay content included in the database. The 2011 print/DVD catalogue raisonné of paintings was also produced by the Sam Francis Foundation, but the only content reproduced in the online archive is the individual work entries.
The Sam Francis Foundation’s leverage of digital technology is evident in the 2011 catalog raisonné through their choice to share painting information on an interactive DVD. The SFOCR takes this goal to an even more successful end. The database is structured around a catalog, bibliography, exhibition and collection history, and the particular strength of this resource is the manner in which these areas are hyperlinked together. A visitor to the site can begin with a single artwork of interest and then follow links in its exhibition history or provenance to view the work in the context of others shown in the same gallery or held in the same collection. These records also connect to the literature that references the work that in turn provide linked thumbnails of every work from the database discussed in that resource. Many citations helpfully link to Worldcat, though there is limited full-text here, an approach different than some other online catalogues raisonnés, such as petercain.org that provides more essays. The related resources area provides some archival materials such as photographs of the artist with the work in question. Artwork records also allow users to easily jump to groups of works created in the same medium or in the same year. This more serendipitous method of exploration allows for a multi-angled approach to engaging with Francis’ work during this period, while advanced search functionality allows for targeting specific criteria. This interlinked technique takes content that would be more static, like in the similarly data-rich Morris Louis archive, and creates better opportunities for connection. Worthy of note is that the database is built on panOpticon, a system designed specifically for catalogues raisonnés of individual artists. This clear linking together of the image to other items of shared provenance and exhibition history is a standard feature in panOpticon-based projects, strengths demonstrated in other projects using this tool, for example, the Paul Cezanne Catalogue Raisonné. The thoughtful structuring of hyperlinked content is conducive to the eventual growth of the database.
The size and quality of the images included vary widely, likely because of the range of sources for work photo-documentation. Happily, the Sam Francis Foundation provides large zoomable images for the pieces that are in their own collection, and when large images are available from other collections they are used. Unfortunately, these images are not downloadable. Given the wide range of collections and rights holders these images are obtained from this is understandable, but as the art field is increasingly embracing fair use tenets in its culture of image sharing, it’s noteworthy that this access is not included here. When possible the resource provides a link to the website of the original collection where someone might search for and download the image.
This resource would benefit users looking to place works from this period within their chronological, collection, exhibition, and bibliographic history. Given future plans to convert the SFOCR to a subscription model for content beyond the thumbnails, this tool may be less accessible to libraries and more helpful for collectors or individual researchers focused on Sam Francis.