Suggested Reading: the Sam Francis Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings


Artist: Sam Francis (1923-1994)
Title:  Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946-1994
Key Contributors:  Edited by Debra Burchett-Lere with featured essay by William C. Agee
Publisher:  University of California Press
Published Date:  2011
 0520264304  978-0520264304 0
Organized by: 
Sam Francis Foundation, Pasadena, CA
Works covered:  1,850-plus paintings on canvas and panel

CRSA: The Sam Francis Catalogue Raisonné is both a print publication for essays and texts, and a digital publication on DVD for artwork entries.  What was behind the decision to publish in this dual format?

SFCR: Working with the University of California Press at Berkeley provided an ideal atmosphere of collaboration for us to explore ideas to develop this educational project. As this was UC Press’s first artist’s catalogue raisonné they were open to exploring alternative ways of presenting information. We felt it would be important to not only offer a richly illustrated “coffee table” book with art historical texts, but to provide additional data about the artist, his work, and his life that could function as a browsable resource. The boxed set was developed to include the book and two DVDs that can be accessed on any computer (great for students and researchers without the need for the internet) with capability to search by topics, artworks, dates, exhibitions, bibliography, etc.  The DVD data can be transferred directly to the reader’s computer database so the contents be used as a research source on a daily basis.

The packaged set offers a traditional book with vibrant color images accompanying a comprehensive scholarly text by William C. Agee, as well as the most detailed, anecdote-packed biography of Sam Francis ever published. The two DVDs offer options for the reader to discover Francis’s paintings more fully through thousands of supplementary documentary photographs, essays about Francis’s paint methods and studios, examples of his writings, exhibition history, detailed bibliography, and two videos of rare film footage showing Francis at work.

With the DVDs capability of providing more comprehensive data, we were able to allow ample space for the illustrations. The reader can enlarge many of the painting images and “zoom-in” for closer study. One of the main reasons we opted for using the DVDs was the fact that we would not be as limited to text and illustration constraints with a printed book format. Therefore we were able to include additional notes and detail photographs such as signatures and inscriptions.

CRSA: How how much time was dedicated to research in advance of the publication?

SFCR: Francis did not always photograph or identify paintings over the years as he created them — so the archival records have not been the only resource for information gathering. A limited registration procedure was initiated by his studio assistants in the early 1970s that resulted in a compilation of “doc” cards that documented a large percentage of his artworks that continues to be updated and catalogued to date. After his death in 1994, records were consolidated from the artist’s studios around the world (Francis had studios in Paris, New York, Santa Monica, Palo Alto, Tokyo, etc.), as well as other resources to document his oeuvre. We began to focus our efforts in consideration of creating a catalogue of the canvas and panel paintings, and some works have more data than others due to their public exhibition history, auction records, etc. The resulting publication with UCPress was conceived as a “living catalogue raisonné,” subject to change and expansion as new information continues to come to light. We notated that we are planning to publish an addendum in the future — probably online.

CRSA: What has been the project’s most valuable research resource?

SFCR: The artist’s artworks, his personal and business archives, as well as sources listed below continue to be the primary resources for our information.

This sources include:
Polaroids taken by studio assistants of works over the years in the studio
Correspondence and personal letters
Business & sales records
Black and white negative strips of artworks, studio shots, exhibitions
Old slides, transparencies, and black and white photographs of artworks, studio shots, exhibitions, etc.
Archives and business records of the galleries, curators and museums
Conservation records
Lists and notes by the artist
Exhibition checklists, catalogues, newspaper articles, auction records, other documentation
Interviews, development of an oral history archive, as well as correspondence with individuals who worked with him (especially studio assistants) and knew him, such as: friends, family, colleagues, collectors of his work, exhibitors of his work, dealers, galleries, curators, etc.
Identification cards assigned to a large percentage of the artworks since the early 1970s

In addition we gathered information housed at the Getty Research Institute (including the Sam Francis Papers in the special collections), Los Angeles County Museum of Art library, the Morgan Library, UCLA library, Archives of American Art, among many other sources.

CRSA: Is research ongoing?  Will other areas of Sam Francis’ practice eventually be published as a CR?

SFCR:  Since 1995 we have been archiving unique works on paper as well as monotypes and prints. Research continues as we plan to begin publishing an online document for the “works on paper.” As the Sam Francis Foundation does not authenticate or render opinions on artworks the information we provide is for educational purposes. We anticipate launching “works on paper” by June 2015 — starting with Francis’s earliest period beginning in 1945. We plan to continue publishing different periods of his career, including updated data about prints (lithographs, etchings, screen prints) as well as ceramics and sculpture.

CRSA: How does the project intend to address updates to information in this CR?

SFCR:  As mentioned, we aim to provide online updates to the UCPress catalogue and are compiling results of our ongoing research and inputting this into one of the best systems designed for catalogue raisonné research –the wonderful panOpticon database!  This software platform makes research so thorough and provides many links and ways to check data. panOpticon has designed this produce to allow for a seamless transfer of data to the web.

The following video offers a remarkable preview of the Sam Francis Catalogue Raisonné.  For additional information, visit the Sam Francis Foundation at