size matters

All too often the size of a work of art illustrated in a printed book or catalogue is deceptive — a small painting in actuality may seem monumental in print and a large canvas diminutive. So, too, it can be a challenge to visualize the sizes of a selected group of pictures and how they compare to one another.

One of the many appealing features of an online catalogue is the potential to view the works of art by their relative size. For scholars this capability can be a powerful research tool and for museum curators a useful instrument in organizing exhibitions. Think about it: one can view online all of the self-portraits by an artist, say from smallest to largest, or by date of execution, or in relation to all portraits of a specified dimension. Or, if the artist executed a motif in series (Cézanne, for example, often painted in threes), one can easily compare visually the same subject in its varying sizes. Furthermore, exhibitions or public collections can be recreated with the works of art seen proportionately. I use the example of the Cézanne retrospective at the 1907 Salon in Paris where nearly sixty paintings and watercolors were shown, including the Philadelphia Museum’s monumental Grandes Baigneuses, which by its sheer size dominated the exhibition space.  In the absence of installation photos for this retrospective, a researcher with access to an online catalogue can better appreciate the impact of this impressive work on the many young artists who encountered Cézanne’s art for the first time.


Jayne Warman is Project Director and co-author of The Paintings of Paul Cézanne.


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