The Plough Catalogue Raisonné

On this page, a look will be taken at the role catalogue raisonnés play in combating forgeries. Also, a more general evaluation of the catalogue will be made, by looking at some of the problems that have led to the absence of these catalogue raisonnés. These problems will then be provided with possible solutions, to hopefully prevent forgery cases such as this one from occurring again.

A big problem with the oeuvre of The Plough, as well as that of similar art groups, is that there is no catalogue raisonné of their work. The absence of this crucial (and objective) point of reference allows forgers such as Cor van L. to spread forgeries of their work in the astounding numbers that he did. A much-heard argument is that the work of The Plough is not interesting enough to make a catalogue raisonné of, but that argument ignores two crucial points. Firstly, even though they were a provincial art group, they have had a significant cultural impact on Dutch modern art. Many of the Plough artists became significant artists, with regard to both their work and their philosophy on art. This makes it all the more remarkable that no catalogue raisonné has appeared of their work, or at least of the work of the most prominent members of The Plough. Secondly, making a raisonné wouldn’t be financially interesting. This argument doesn’t hold up either, as public interest for this group has been quite extensive. A museum like the Groninger Museum has published on their work and has had/has the relevant knowledge to create such a catalog. But even disregarding this, it would have been most interesting for the market to create a catalog, as The Plough artworks were sold for amounts of over € 200.000 (Economics) and were receiving international attention.

Due to the fact that no catalogue raisonné was made before the big forgery wave, it has now become increasingly difficult to create one, as not only the monetary value of the paintings has dropped, but also, and more importantly, the oeuvres of these artists have been contaminated with a large number of fakes. Combined with the problems currently plaguing catalogue raisonnés – such as fear of litigation, and dated working methods – the creation of a catalogue raisonné on the various oeuvres of The Plough artists has become highly unlikely.

This is an absolute shame, not only because of the major positive consequences it could have for the value and appreciation of The Plough works, but also because we could be living in the golden age for catalogue raisonnés. The digital tools that are now available are amazingly well-suited for catalogue raisonnés, as they, for example, solve the fundamental problem of a volume – once printed – quickly becoming outdated. Digital catalogue raisonnés can be changed and adapted continuously, keeping it ever up to date.

Besides these editorial tools, there are also numerous new research techniques for paintings. The current developments in technical examination provide a new vantage point on the attribution process, which is why technical examination is starting to become a standard procedure when it concerns the sale of a painting. The relatively low cost of some of the more basic procedures ensures that almost all artworks of value have had some form of technical examination. Catalogue raisonnés should move away from their classical, purely art historical approach, and start implementing knowledge provided by technical examination.

The tools to create catalogue raisonnés of the oeuvres of The Plough members are readily available. These raisonnés would not only put a stop to any future forgeries but, more importantly, could cleanse the now tainted oeuvre of The Plough. With this cleansing, The Plough could, once again, receive the cultural recognition the art group deserves, not to mention what it would mean for the market value of their works (which could even reach a new height).

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