Rosalie Gascoigne Catalogue Raisonné

Rosalie Gascoigne in her studio, working with wood from sawn-up cable drums. The work under construction is City Block (1996). Photographed by William Yang.

Artist: Rosalie Gascoigne (1917 – 1999)

Title: Rosalie Gascoigne: A Catalogue Raisonné

Formats: Online (PDF and ePub); print-to-order and limited hardbound edition

Publisher: Australian National University Press, Canberra

;Publication Date: August, 2019

Availability and price: Online download for free; print-to-order A$175, hardbound (edition of 150) A$195

Scope: The catalogue covers her full career and production, which began in 1973 and ended with her death in 1999.

Objects: 690 assemblages (including studies), 2 color photo-screen prints

Supporting research documentation: A chronology, a biographical note, an essay on her engagement with the country around Canberra, and a note on materials. There are also detailed appendices on her solo exhibitions and on selected group exhibitions (both with extracts from significant reviews and additional comments by the artist and author), a list of works in public collections, a comprehensive bibliography, an alphabetical list of works, and an index.

Database: FileMaker 

Organized and Supported by: Independent

Key Contributors: S. C. B. “Ben” Gascoigne (initial database and photographic records); Martin Gascoigne (research, compilation, writing, author); Mary Eagle and Daniel Thomas (advisors) 

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Interview with Martin Gascoigne

What are the goals of the Rosalie Gascoigne catalogue raisonné?

The first objective is to provide an authoritative record of the artist’s body of work. The second is to promote an understanding of the artist’s objectives, sensibility, and career in order to help foster an informed appreciation of her achievements.

In the 1990s, Rosalie’s work began to inspire ‘homages’ and imitations by other artists, some of which could potentially be marketed as her works, and this became an extra incentive to complete and publish the catalogue.

How did the project develop and how close is its release?

The foundations were laid by Ben Gascoigne, the artist’s astronomer husband, who kept excellent records. He began photographing his wife’s work in the mid-1970s, often recording the dates on which the negatives were processed. In the mid-1980s he started to compile a database of her works; recording titles, materials, dimensions, and their first exhibition. At first he recorded his data on cards, then he transferred the information into a computerized database in the 1990s, to which his grandson Charles added images of the works. He also compiled individual albums for each of her exhibitions and, also in the 1990s, started recording the dates on which he photographed works. In 2001, I took over the database and added information about materials, inscriptions (where available), subsequent exhibition histories, references in reviews and the literature, and comments Rosalie made about specific works in her letters, talks, and interviews.

Publication of the catalogue marks the completion of an integrated estate management strategy to promote an enduring appreciation of the artist’s work. I had a long-standing interest in contemporary art, which I collected, and was closest to her within the family in matters of art, so I took the lead in managing her artistic legacy when she died in 1999. It helped that I am trained as an historian. Development of the catalogue was tied to management of the estate.

A major milestone was the publication of the exhibition catalogue From the Studio of Rosalie Gascoigne (ANU Drill Hall Gallery, 2000), which included memoirs by Ben Gascoigne, the artist’s studio assistant Peter Vandermark, and her studio partner Marie Hagerty, as well as lengthy extracts from Rosalie’s letters in the 1970s dealing with her evolution as an artist. Two other milestones occurred in 2008–10: the National Gallery of Victoria mounted a full retrospective; and Rosalie’s papers and those of her husband were sorted and donated to the National Library of Australia, where they are available without restrictions on access. 

The catalogue raisonné was submitted for publication in 2016 and will be released in August 2019.

Which catalogues raisonnés served as reference points?

The primary one was Bea Maddock: A Catalogue Raisonné (Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, 2011), edited by Daniel Thomas (also an advisor on this catalogue).

What was the experience like compiling the catalogue raisonné?

As the compiler, I was very fortunate to draw on Ben Gascoigne’s excellent records. There were also advantages and disadvantages in being the artist’s son. As an example of the former, I had a unique body of letters which the artist wrote to me in the 1970s with a lot of information about her evolving art practice and her engagement with art and the art world. The disadvantages included the risk that any assessment of her work that I might make could be seen as influenced by my position, so I steered clear of assessment, and sought advice from experts when art history issues arose.

What archival resources informed the catalogue raisonné?

Outside of the Papers of Rosalie Gascoigne and Papers of Ben Gascoigne collections at the National Library of Australia, Canberra, there are family letters (notably letters from Rosalie to their two sons living abroad in the 1970s, from which art-related extracts have been published in From the Studio of Rosalie Gascoigne) and Ben Gascoigne’s photographic archive (covering Rosalie’s work from the mid-1970s until her death). In due course my letters will go to the National Library of Australia, and the photographic records to the National Art Archive at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. A comprehensive list of archives is also included in the catalogue bibliography.

It seems as if documenting the work of an artist who came to their practice later in life could expedite the research process. What part of the research felt like it was the most straightforward, and what required the most effort?

Rosalie was fortunate in having a scientific husband who kept methodical records for much of her career, and that her career blossomed as his was winding down. His records provided a solid foundation for cataloguing. It also made a great deal of difference when the project got underway that there was a large community of people available who knew the artist, whose memories were fresh, and whose records were intact; including studio assistants, the gallerists with whom she exhibited, and curators who selected her works for exhibitions and public collections.

The issues that required more effort included data on inscriptions (invariably on the back of the work and not recorded either by Ben or the gallerists, so the catalogue is incomplete on this point), some aspects of dating (where the photographic record or correspondence was at variance with the inscribed date), and tracking down Rosalie’s talks and interviews (especially for any references to works of art). I was also unable to see many of the works to check them against their draft catalogue entries. So these gaps in the data gave rise to another issue: whether to publish or not. I decided to proceed before age caught up with me, because I was confident that all the works had been captured, that any gaps in the data concerning their descriptions were peripheral, and that any gaps could be offset by the unique insights I brought because of my relationship with the artist. If I had chosen not to go ahead, there was the strong possibility that the catalogue would not be published.

But the hardest issue was deciding how to handle the contents of the studio, and what should be regarded as a finished work. This was firstly an estate management issue and subsequently a cataloguing issue. Having to second-guess the artist, the author’s mother, made this really hard. Another issue was where to draw the line between pieces eventually categorized as ‘studies’ and others which might be better regarded as offcuts from a completed work or the sawn-up remains of work the artist destroyed. There were many shades of grey, and I was mindful of the criticism of executors who have taken it upon themselves to destroy works by their artist. In the end, I worked out that Rosalie’s legacy was secured by a significant body of really strong work, and that whichever way I fell on a particular shade of grey would not affect the outcome. Over time, the arts community will also work out for itself, individually and collectively, what they consider important and good and what is less significant, responding accordingly.

How was provenance research?

Early on, I made the decision not to worry about provenance too much other than for works in public collections, not least because I did not have good records and knew owners had privacy concerns. The most important issue was the date and circumstances under which the artist parted with a work, because the availability of such data helped confirm the authenticity of a work. This was not hard to document because Rosalie sold most of her output through her gallerists, and rarely gave pieces away. The absence of a sales record thus becomes a cautionary flag and helped identify several pieces as works stolen from the studio, which were eventually recovered and the thief successfully prosecuted. 

How did the collaboration with the Australian National University come about?

I knew of the ANU Press from other publications and authors, and thought it was the best option. The objective was not an expensive vanity project with limited circulation. Instead, I wanted a catalogue that would be easily and widely accessible, including for students (the artist’s work is on the curriculum in some Australian state education authorities), so the free download with print-to-order option was very attractive. It also meant the catalogue could include an image of each work. Late in the production cycle, the Press decided to make a small hard-bound edition for libraries and other heavy users, which pleased me mightily. The association with the ANU was a bonus because of the family’s long association with the University.

Another option might have been a web-based catalogue, but I was so far advanced with a publication in a more traditional format that I was reluctant to change over. There was also a big issue about the difficulty of putting in place arrangements for a website and its long-term management. 

How are works organized within the catalogue raisonné?

The organization is chronological, by date of completion. I considered separating the studies, but in the end decided it was simpler and more meaningful to include them. Being in the body of the catalogue, they could be seen more readily in the context of the contemporaneous completed works.

When did you know which artwork would be on the cover? Was this an easy decision?

I suggested several works to the ANU Press designer, Teresa Prowse, and she developed a proposal based on one of them, Sunflowers (1991). Yellow was a signature color of the artist and all the works I proposed were yellow. Teresa’s proposal worked really well, so it turned out to be a fairly easy process.

What existing resources would provide a complementary perspective on the artist along with the catalogue raisonné?

Rosalie’s talks and recorded interviews, especially the latter because they capture in a way the catalogue cannot the vitality of her delivery and the nuance in her message. They are listed in the bibliography.

Other projects on the horizon that will also shape Gascoigne’s legacy? 

The Australian writer Hannah Fink is working on a biography of the artist.

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To learn more, visit press.anu.edu.au or contact the Gascoigne catalogue raisonné at martingascoigne@bigpond.com

Interview conducted by Carl Schmitz, Director of Communications and Publications