A Sneak Peek at Fernando Zóbel’s Catalogue Raisonné
A catalogue raisonné is a comprehensive list of an artist’s known works. Its objective is to be a reliable source and an authority on the artist, providing precise and accurate information about each work of art. Artists who have had a substantial sum of work would be well-served to have a catalogue of their works, especially when they have made significant contributions to society through their craft. Such is the case for Fernando Zóbel.
Though his untimely death was more than three decades ago, Zóbel remains an important figure in modern Spanish abstract art, as well as in the Philippines where he has pioneered the field. He is well-known for his Saetas and Serie Negra paintings. His legacy continues in the museums he helped found: Museo Abstrata Español in Spain, and the Ateneo Art Gallery and Ayala Museum, both of which are in the Philippines. Zobel’s works also returned to the Venice Biennale in 2017 after a 55-year absence. The Ayala Museum mounted an exhibition titled Zóbel Contrapuntos, which featured some of Zóbel’s works at his prime.
Preparing a catalogue like this often requires years and Zóbel’s was no exception. There is a certain pressure to be equal parts accurate and thorough when putting together a list as detailed as this, since much is at stake. The team assigned to the project immersed themselves in hours of complex research, gathering pieces from organisations and private collections in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, to name a few. They conducted a thorough research on his life, contacting family members and friends, as well as institutions affiliated with Zóbel, to be able to put together a biographical map of his works. Each artwork then, apart from being dated and labelled, includes details such as its provenance and condition, interviews in which it appeared or is mentioned, and additional photographs.
Zobel is among three Filipino artists whose works are recorded in such a way. Abstract artist Constantino Bernardo’s works were compiled with the help of the Ayala Foundation, resulting in 16 volumes of paintings and drawings. The cataloguing process for the legendary Juan Luna’s pieces is also ongoing and will include his renowned works like The Spoliarium and Tampuhan. The three join others like Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet who themselves have a lasting record of their works.
The value of this project is immeasurable. Long after his passing, patrons, art historians, and researchers will be able to appreciate his body of work through this endeavour. Upon its completion, the catalogue will become the most reliable point of reference on his listed works. Zóbel’s legacy to the Philippine—and global—art scene is then wholly immortalised.