The Wildenstein Institute is a unique organisation which was founded to benefit historians, researchers and art-lovers. Its original documentation was assembled in the late 19th century by Nathan Wildenstein (1851-1934), one of the pioneering figures in the rediscovery of masters of 18th century French painting such as François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
With tireless enthusiasm, Nathan's son Georges continued to amass historical documentation and photographic archives concerning the life and works of thousands of artists. He built up a vast library that provides an overview of European art through the ages. He was also active in publishing and produced some of the first major, fully illustrated catalogues raisonnés that were accessible and affordable to a wide audience. He also edited such art periodicals as Beaux-Arts and the venerable Gazette des Beaux-Arts.
The Institute was founded in 1970 by Georges' son Daniel, who was eager to continue this form of cultural sponsorship. Under his guidance, the Institute was organized along more modern, scientific lines by focusing on the accumulation of documents and research materials.
The Institute's Library holds more than 400,000 volumes, 20,000 catalogues raisonnés and over 50,000 exhibition, public and private collections and sale catalogues. The oldest sale catalogues, veritable museum pieces, date from the 17th century. These are complemented by extensive archives documenting the activities of the international art market dating from the late 19th century; these include notarized inventories and sale records, an area of particular interest.
A treasure-trove of visual data has been constantly enriched by the acquisition of the photograph libraries of Galerie Druet, Gachet, Vollard, [more forthcoming] and the historian Georges Isarlo.
The number of catalogues raisonnés prepared with the aid of the Wildenstein Institute is considerable. Work is facilitated by donations of historical records bequeathed by descendants of specific artists, among them Michel Monet and Denis Rouart, heirs of the Monet and Manet families, and by the archives of such patrons of the Impressionists as Ambroise Vollard, Etienne Bignou and Dr. Paul Gachet. A catalogue raisonné attempts to record the entire output of an artist, thus constituting the fundamental reference work on that artist and is sometimes decades in the making.
For example, Daniel Wildenstein spent more than thirty-six years completing the fivevolume Monet, which he started with his first wife Martine Kapferer. Among its other activities, the Wildenstein Institute fosters and encourages cultural ties within the international art community and has organised symposia, conferences and exhibitions.