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The Story of Benezit

Emmanuel Bénézit’s Paris was the unrivaled center of Western art, the home of Cézanne, Monet, Picasso, and Matisse, and the birthplace of Impressionism, post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism. In this thrilling context, Bénézit (b. 1854) undertook the monumental project of the Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs. An art enthusiast and amateur painter himself, Bénézit set out to make a comprehensive listing of artists from all eras and places that would respond to the needs of the burgeoning discipline of art history, Europeans’ newfound interest in non-Western artistic traditions, and the contemporary flurry of activity in various artistic circles.

Compiled and written by a team of specialists, the first two volumes of Bénézit’s dictionary published in 1911 and 1913, but the project was abandoned by the original publisher Roger & Chernoviz. After Bénézit’s death in 1920, Marcelle Bénézit and Edmond-Henri Zeiger-Viallet completed the third and final volume which was published in 1923 by Librairie Gründ. Gründ would go on to publish three further editions over the course of the century, as well as the first English edition of 2006.

Now comprising fourteen volumes with entries on nearly 170,000 artists, the Benezit Dictionary of Artists is the most comprehensive source of artists’ biographies in the English language. Long a standard reference work in France and particularly known for its coverage of nineteenth-century and East Asian artists, historic auction prices, and images of artists’ signatures and monograms, the English edition of 2006 made Benezit indispensable to researchers in many new parts of the globe. While maintaining its appeal to dealers and connoisseurs, Benezit’s authors have adapted to the needs of a much broader range of professional and amateur readers, fleshing out biographical information and compiling additional sections to aid further research. Although Benezit originally catalogued artists working in traditional media—painters, sculptors, and printmakers—the dictionary has grown to represent more diverse artistic practices, including environmental and performance artists.

In the summer of 2010 Oxford University Press, seeing an opportunity to place Benezit alongside Grove Art Online, acquired the title from Editions Gründ and immediately began development on an online version of the English edition. The landmark publication is now available in a searchable digital format alongside other Oxford art reference works, and will be updated regularly with new entries, expanded coverage of selected subject areas, and updates to existing articles. On the eve of the online launch, Alain Gründ—grandson of the publisher who took over Benezit’s publication in 1920—stated, “We are very happy to see today the result of our work available online, thanks to the expertise of Oxford University Press. We are sure that, using the best of modern technology, the Bénézit will remain a source of valuable information and will go on helping scholars and professionals in their research work. We wish to our successors all the success they deserve.”

In the fall of 2011, exactly one hundred years after the dictionary first appeared in print, Oxford University Press proudly announces a new chapter in the story of the Benezit Dictionary of Artists on Oxford Art Online. Benezit’s publication online is a shining example of Oxford’s enduring mission to promote excellence in research, scholarship, and education.


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