Skip to main content

Researching a non-contemporary artist: Getting started

Tips for searching a historic artist's life and work

Contact us




This guide is principally about fine artists, but will be useful for research into decorative artists and designers too.  

The following are key starting points:

Catalogues raisonnés database  is the best source of information about any catalogues raisonnés that have been compiled for your artist.  Some of these are online, with links from the database.  These links are mentioned in the results list for each artist, but it is necessary to click through to the record for the relevant catalogue itself to access the link.  In the SIA library, catalogues raisonnés are usually kept with the other works on the artist in the FIA section.  Remember to check Summon, as a few are instead kept in the library store.

Within Oxford Art Online, both Grove Art Online and the Benezit Dictionary of Artists give excellent introductions to many artists.  You can search them separately or together.  Grove includes bibliographies of further works as well.

The Union List of Artist Names lists all the variant names important artists have been known by have been known by.  This is key information if you will be looking at older sources.


Searching with Summon

Summon will usually be your best starting point for finding articles, books and other material on your subject. Watch a video intro to Summon (4 mins) or see our collection of guides to making the most of Summon.


You can search for an artist under more than one variant of their name like this:


You can add a subject, as in these two examples:



Please note: if you put together a search that is more complex than this, there is a chance that it will not run properly, either failing to find all relevant results or adding in erroneous ones.  So always evaluate the number of results you see, when running complex searches.