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. Stephen Bury, Andrew W. Mellon Chief Librarian at the Frick Reference Library, was brought on board as Advisory Editor, tasked with helping to organize, update, and revise the content, as well as contribute new articles and suggest contributors. Benezit launched on Oxford Art Online in 2011, exactly 100 years after the dictionary first appeared in print. It soon began its regular updates, including new entries, expanded coverage of selected subject areas, and revisions to existing articles.
For the next few years, Benezit continued to thrive in its online environment alongside Grove Art Online and other Oxford art reference resources. In late 2015, Dr. Kathy Battista of the Sotheby’s Institute of Art joined the Benezit team as Editor in Chief, placing an emphasis on continued updates in contemporary art.
In the coming years, Benezit will transition into an even more dynamic and comprehensive resource. In 2017, Benezit and Grove Art re-launched onto a new platform, making search and navigation more seamless than ever before.