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Graduate students' guide to resources in art history: Finding biographical information

Research guide for graduate students in art history lists core resources, print and electronic.

Edgar Degas, Self-Portrait

Hilaire-Germaine-Edgar Degas. Self-portrait, 1857/58.  Oil on paper, mounted on canvas.  Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

Finding biographical information: general sources and worldwide indexes

A good first step in finding out about a work of art is to find biographical information about the artist.  Which resources you use depend on when and where the artist lived and worked.  The works listed below cover most or all of the world and are good sources for more well-known artists.

Choose from the drop-down menu to find sources on artists from specific countries or regions of the world.

For contemporary artists who may not be included in even the most up-to-date print sources, check the internet.


Online Sources

When looking for biographical information, a basic first source of information is the Internet.  In addition to simply searching an artist's name, the first two websites suggested below are reliable sources of biographical information and can be searched from home.


Searchable website with links to information on artists, art movements, works of art, art galleries and sales, and art museums.  Search for artists by name, browse by art movement, or click on links to images of works of art on museum websites.  Some parts of the database are available only to subscribers; the Clark library does NOT subscribe.



Contains detailed information on nearly 28,000 American artists accessed through a name keyword search, an alphabetically arranged artist index, or by category (e.g., California Artists, Hudson River School).  Artist entries include a biography, information about museums that display their work, links to auction sales records, a bibliography of books and periodicals about the artist, and a color image gallery. The web site also provides directories of museums, dealers, auction houses, and professional organizations and a glossary of art terms.


Google (and Google Images)

Google is a vast source of information, and can also be used to find images that can help to verify an artist or a work. 


Worldwide Indexes

Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon:  Bio-Bibliographischer Index A–Z/The Artists of the World: Bio-Bibliographical Index A–Z.  Munich:  Saur, 1999–2000.

The most comprehensive and wide-ranging index to artistic biography available and the best starting place for information on an artist.  Indexes biographical encyclopedias and dictionaries.  Entries include artist’s name, birth and death dates where known, nationality, and references to entries in biographical sources listed in the front of each volume.   In several languages, including English.

Reference  N40 A44b  (10 vols; on counter)


Bénézit, Emmanuel.  Dictionary of Artists.    Paris:  Gründ, 2006.

Often referred to as “Bénézit.”  Comparable, in inclusiveness and comprehensiveness, to the much older Thieme-Becker and Vollmer (above).  Originally published in French, it has been expanded and updated and is now for the first time available in English translation.  Long, signed entries include bibliographic citations, museum collection information, and auction prices fetched by significant works.  Facsimiles of artists’ signatures are occasionally included.  Bénézit can be searched online from the Clark/Williams campus by connecting to the Oxford Art Online database.

Reference  N40 B4 2006 E  (14 volumes; on counter)


Gaze, Delia, editor.  Dictionary of Women Artists.    Chicago:  Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.

Covers painters, sculptors, printmakers, photographers, and decorative/applied artists, as well as artists working in newer forms. Introductory surveys on: women as artists in the Middle Ages, convents, guilds and the open market, court artists, academies of art, copyists, printmakers, amateur artists, artistic training in various countries, modernism, and feminism.  Signed entries by scholarly contributors include basic biographical information, chronological list of individual and group exhibitions, writings by the artist, citations of works about the artist, and an essay. Does not cover contemporary artists.  Emphasis is on Western art.

Reference  N43 D53  (2 volumes)


Hillstrom, Laurie Collier, and Kevin Hillstrom, editors.  Contemporary Women Artists. Detroit:  St. James Press, 1999.

Biographical and career information on 350+ of the world’s most prominent and influential 20th century women artists working in painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, collage, photography, ceramics, mixed media, electronic media, performance art, video, design, and graphic arts.  Entries include basic biographical data, exhibition history, works in collections, bibliographical references, critical reception, and, where possible, a comment by the artist.

Reference  N43 C65


Petteys, Chris.  Dictionary of Women Artists: An International Dictionary of Women Artists Born Before 1900.    Boston:  G. K. Hall, 1985.

Brief entries provide basic biographical data on 21,000+ women painters, sculptors, printmakers, and illustrators.  Omitted are photographers, architects, craftsworkers, and designers unless their skills were “adjunct to” painting or other arts.  Entries include data on the artist’s schooling, exhibition information, and bibliographical references.

Reference  N43 P483


Thieme, Ulrich, and Felix Becker.  Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart; unter Mitwirking von 300 Fachgelehrten des In- und Auslandes.    Leipzig:  Seemann, 1907–50.

Comprehensive scholarly dictionary of artists; commonly known as “Thieme-Becker.”  Includes all known Western painters, sculptors, engravers, architects, and decorative artists up to the mid-20th century.  Currently being updated, a few alphabetical volumes a year, by the Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon: die Bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Volker (Reference Counter N40 A44).  Includes signed articles by outstanding scholars and long bibliographies.  Locations of works of art frequently given.  Numerous cross-references.  See also the Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Kunstler des XX. Jahrhunderts for information on 20th-century artists, below.  In German.

Reference  N40 V6  (37 volumes; on counter)


Turner, Jane, editor.  Dictionary of Art.    New York:  Grove, 1996.

Entries include biographical material on artists, dealers, art historians, and other figures in the art world.  Articles include bibliographies.   The Dictionary of Art can also be searched online from the Clark/Williams campus by connecting to the Oxford Art Online database.

Reference N31 D48 (34 vols; on counter)


Vollmer, Hans, editor.   Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler des XX. Jahrhunderts.  Leipzig:  Seemann, 1953–62.

Supplements Theime-Becker (above) and is known as “Vollmer.”  Still the most scholarly, comprehensive dictionary of Western artists working in the first half of the 20th century.  In German.

Reference  N40 T4i