Researching Art in the CMA Collection

The museum collects information about every object in the collection. There are approximately 13,000 objects in the collection and of those about 5% are on view at any given time. If you aren’t able to visit the museum you can view images and information about the collection through the online collection database.

When researching a work of art in any museum collection you’ll come across several terms which may be new to you. Provenance is the history of ownership of a work of art. The accession number is the unique identifying number assigned to each object in the collection by the museum. An object’s history can be complex and may include multiple accession numbers from previous museums if the work changed ownership. Attribution is the person, group or style responsible for the creation of the work. Attribution can change over time in light of new research so be sure not to discount a source if the attribution differs from what is currently reported by the museum.

Now let’s get started!

1. Gather as much basic information as you can about the work of art. If you are in the gallery looking at the label that should include artist name, title of the work, date the work was produced and possible the location of where, medium and the credit line. You should use the credit line any time you are citing the work in your own words.  You may be working from a publication which has reproduced the work and should provide basic citation information. At the very least try to find these three bits of information: a. name of the artist or culture that produced the piece b. title of the work c. accession number, which will look something like this:


2. Search the Currier Museum of Art Collection Database:

If you know the name of your artist a Quick Search should suffice. For more complex searches, for example to identify an artist by nationality or to search by object type such as photographs or ceramics, use the Advanced Search feature. Be sure to check out this tutorial for basics on searching our Online Collections Database. If you weren’t able to locate the accession number previous you will find it in the Online Collections Database.

3. Museum Publications

Museum publications range from traditional catalogs to mulitmedia content such as artist lectures on Youtube. The Collections database will provide you with an exhibition history for major works in the collection. The exhibition history details each time the object went out on view either at the Currier or on loan.

Learn about the Currier’s exhibition history here: Exhibition_History_WEB1 .

You can also view some publications in our digital library.

4. Reference Work

A good place to begin your research is in the reference section of the library. Browse Jane Turner’s The Dictionary of Art or the Oxford Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art to get started. If you are new to research in art history Sylvan Barnet’s A Short Guide to Writing About Art will give you a basic orientation to the field, or a good refresher if you need it. Once you have your footing you can get more specific. To orient yourself in time check out this helpful timeline.

5. Artist Files

The library maintains artist files for many of the artists represented in our collection. Catalogs, invitations, brochures and announcements related to the artist are filed alphabetically in hanging vertical files. Artist files are available for browsing during public hours or by appointment.

6. Institutional Records (scrapbooks, papers, object files etc.)

The institutional records of the museum are available to the public for research through the library and archives.  Scrapbooks date back to 1917 and Director’s records shed light on many acquisitions. Files are available for most departments including Public Relations and Marketing, Education and Public Programs. Email us at for more information or to make an appointment.

The Currier Museum preserves records related to every object in the collection.  These object files, with few restrictions, are open to the public for research. Object files include primary source material such as correspondence, receipts, shipping details, exhibition history, conservation information and photographs of the individual artworks.  To view this material researchers must make an appointment with our registrars, email cmackey at for more information or to make an appointment.

7. Periodicals

The library subscribes to over 30 journals in print. We complement our printed journals with subscriptions to online publications and content distributors. Search the library catalog for printed periodical titles. To view our online holdings check out our databases page.

8. Books

Over 14,000 volumes are available to researchers in the library during our public hours or by appointment. Search for your artist in the author field or try a keyword search for your artwork. You can find help navigating the online catalog here, or email the library staff at


1 thought on “Researching Art in the CMA Collection

  1. Pingback: Researching an art object in the Currier’s Collection | CurrierArtLibrary

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