Thursday 26 May 2016
Hannah Murray

In October 2015, I completed a part-time year-long research internship with the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust to update and improve the Colin McCahon Online Catalogue. The catalogue is the authoritative database of McCahon’s work and provides the title, series, date, medium, support, exhibition history for each known work and, where possible, inscriptions and images. The Trust recognised the need to update the Online Catalogue as there were undiscovered artworks not listed on the database, as well as information that needed to be revised. One of the advantages of the catalogue being online is that it can be amended as new research is undertaken, and after completing an extensive period of research, we were able to update many entries.

The internship was a project working with Fiona Moorhead, Registrar (Collections), who was the Lead Researcher on the project. I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for her careful guidance and professionalism throughout this project. The experience has been vital both for my professional development at the Gallery, and for my own personal development.

I outline the research that Fiona and I undertook below. Although there is still further research to be completed for the site, the internship afforded an opportunity to review the website as it currently is, and suggest strategies for future reviews.

The priorities outlined for this project were to identify artworks not listed on the Colin McCahon Online Catalogue, to identify database listings without images, to check and improve existing information on the Online Catalogue and to update the exhibition history for Colin McCahon’s artworks for the period 2008–2015.

Between October and December 2014 we began the initial phase of research to identify works by McCahon that did not appear on the Online Catalogue. After conducting research, including checking auction catalogues and searching over 700 listings on the online resources of the Australasian Art Sales Digest and, we identified 169 works attributed to Colin McCahon that were not listed on the Online Catalogue.

After meeting with a research committee in July 2015, we were able to add approved entries to the website. Research on the remaining works has begun and the information that we have received so far has been carefully recorded. With further cooperation and authentication, we will be able to review these works for future website approval. I found many of the works incredibly interesting to discover. There were additional works to series, such as the book design listed below, as well as remarkable stories of McCahon creating works for family friends and children with his wife, Anne.

There were 114 artwork records on the Online Catalogue that did not have images. After contacting institutions, auction houses and private owners with image requests we were successful in obtaining 99 high-resolution images which have subsequently been uploaded to the website. As some artworks are held within private collections, the images will take further time and research to obtain.

As well as updating images, we also contacted institutions, both in New Zealand and internationally, regarding amending details of McCahon’s works in the institution’s collection and on the Online Catalogue. Through this information we were able to cross check and update 337 records. We have continued to receive information, and with sustained correspondence we will be able to provide the most recent information on McCahon works in public collections, alongside practical information such as credit lines, accession numbers and so forth.

To further develop the website, new features have been proposed such as an exhibition section of the website. This section will outline important solo exhibitions of McCahon’s work with a comprehensive list of the works included and documentary photographs. A design has been completed for this section, as well as a large portion of the preliminary research. In addition, we have also conducted research for including writing about McCahon’s work on the Online Catalogue. This would serve as a useful tool for researchers wishing to understand the context and academic interpretation of his works. Some of these texts may also include personal accounts from close friends of McCahon.

On a final note, the internship has offered an important insight into cataloguing procedures, careful documentation and research strategies. It proved to be an incredibly rewarding project to contribute to and I see a bright future for the Online Catalogue and future interns for the Trust. As new information comes to light on McCahon’s work, we hope that any new discoveries will be forwarded on to the Trust so the website can be kept up to date and remain the authority on McCahon’s artwork.