"Trésors d'art à la portée de tous" – Photographers’ catalogues

An exceptional case study: the 1887 Braun catalogue

The 1887 Braun catalogue of carbon prints is an exceptional case in this field of publishing. The photographers’ prestige, the broad scope of the book with 580 pages for a total of approximately 16,000 subjects, and the four-language introductions by renowned art historians make it an essential source, not only for studying the atelier, but in more general terms, for studying the relationship between the history of art and photography.
Correspondence between Braun’s atelier and scholars, as well as various "footprints" scattered throughout the catalogue, make it possible to study the ways the photographers involved consultants in order to gain access to the museums and in selecting the works of art to reproduce in an ongoing effort to perfect the catalogues and their supplementary materials.
The list of subjects, broken down into six sections, shows a marked increase in the offer of reproductions of primitive and old master paintings, which in terms of quantity is about equal to the number of facsimiles of drawings that were always a key portion of the studio’s carbon prints production. Moreover. it reflects the less well-known attention to contemporary art with photographs of nineteenth-century paintings that had been shown in the Salons or in other exhibitions of the period.
The arrangement by museum makes it possible to update or customize the book by adding fascicles on new photographic campaigns, as we can see from the differences among the extant specimens. Even the later Catalogue Générale, published in 1896, that was markedly changed as to arrangement, images and complementary materials, reflects the photographer-publishers’ unique ability to continuously reorganize the catalogue to make it an ever more effective tool for promoting and marketing their business.

Adolphe Braun (1812-1877), founder of the studio in an offset print (KHI, inv. 608134)

Cover and frontispiece of the 1887 catalogue (KHI collection)

The first page of the introduction by Henry Jouin (1841-1913), archivist of the Commission de l’inventaire général des richesses d’art de la France and an image he mentioned in the body of the preface (FZ, inv. 259665)

Introductions to the catalogue by Carl Ruland (1834-1907), director of the Goethe Nationalmuseum and John Robinson (1824-1913), “Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures” [Queen Victoria]

The introduction to the catalogue by Adolfo Venturi (1856-1941) and an example of a Braun photograph of an Italian Primitive that Venturi particularly admired (FZ, inv. 260617)

A letter from the Braun studio to Adolfo Venturi, dated 14 October 1886, inviting him to write an introduction to the catalogue (Archivio SNS, Fondo Venturi)

A letter from the Braun studio to Adolfo Venturi, dated 14 October 1886, specifying the subjects to discuss

The table of contents showing the six subject-sections of the catalogue

The list of reproductions of the paintings in the Royal Dresden Gallery giving the source used and alternative attributions (e.g. "Selon Woerman…" [According to Woerman])

A Braun carbon print of the painting by Pesellino listed among the works in Dresden attributed to “Gentile da Fabriano” (FZ, inv. 260647)

List of reproductions of the Lenglart Collection in Lille and a facsimile of a drawing by Signorelli mentioned in the catalogue (FZ, inv. 238731)

Carbon print facsimiles of Raphael drawings in Lille that are identical to the originals in size and rendering

The “Selected Works” (Oeuvres choisies) section with paintings by nineteenth-century artists (Jean-Francois Millet, 1814-1875) who by then were already part of the “official” history of art

Two rare Braun carbon prints of contemporary paintings: Brutus condamnant ses fil by Paul Chenavard (1808-1895) and Depart pour le travail by Jean-François Millet (FZ, inv. 335457, 335321)

A letter from the Braun studio to Adolfo Venturi, dated 6 November 1887, asking him to indicate new masterpieces to reproduce (Archivio SNS, Fondo Venturi)

The catalogue index showing the artists’ schools and where they worked

Braun catalogues of campaigns subsequent to the “official” 1887 edition and the booklet on the Musée de l’État da Amsterdam [Rijksmuseum] inserted in the KHI copy

“Customized” Braun catalogues: frontispieces of two different issues of the 1896 catalogue (KHI and Biblioteca Supino)

Chart in the 1896 catalogue with the renumbering of the subjects that eliminated ambiguities about the negative numbers and facilitated ordering for the clients

Two carbon prints of the same painting (BHR, inv. 11667, FZ, inv. 21097), one of which has a caption showing the new numbering system of the negatives

© KHI in Florence | 04.12.2021 18:49:16