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Graduate students' guide to resources in art history: Museum collection catalogs

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

Finding museum collection catalogs

Finding collection catalogs can be tricky and requires creative use of  museum websites and of the library online catalog.  One strategy is to visit a museum's website to see whether you can find any collection catalogs listed among their publications.  You might find them cited in bibliographies for given works.  Or you might even find them for sale in the gift shop!

If you don't find them listed on a museum website try searching the library online catalog, experimenting with the following strategies.

If the museum is a relatively small one:

  • do a keyword search for [museum name] collection*
  • scroll through the results and look for a title that suggests it is a collection catalog (e.g. Still Moving: The Film and Media Collections of the Museum of Modern Art).
  • click on the call number for that catalog and compare it with the titles around it (browse the shelf electronically).  If it is a collection catalog, you should see others that will confirm your guess.

If the museum is large, with extensive publications:

  • do an Advanced Keyword search (in the Clark catalog, choose Advanced Keyword from the dropdown menu in the search box just under the banner on the right).
  • choose Title to search for keywords in publication titles.
  • search for [museum name] collection* or [museum name] paintings, sculpture, drawings, etc.
  • scroll through the results and look for titles that seem to be collection catalogs (e.g. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
  • choose one and click on the call number to browse other titles around the one you have chosen (browse the shelf electronically).  You will be able to see whether you are in the right section and can browse to find a title that corresponds to what you are looking for.

Thomas Rowlandson, Cat-astrophe or Crash to my Grandmother's Old China

Thomas Rowlandson. The Cat-astrophe, or Crash to my Grandmother's Old China, 1800.  Brush and dark brown ink with touches of pen and vermilion ink and watercolor over graphite on cream wove paper.  Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.