'Official' translations of works of art
Thread poster: Luna Jungblut

Luna Jungblut  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Member (2015)
English to French
+ ...
Oct 28, 2015

Dear colleagues,

I hope this message finds you all well,

I have been collaborating with a major museum and I am in the process of translating a lot of art material from English into French. Most works of art present in the museum are well known ones, and they have all surely got an official name in French. However, those are quite hard to find!

Does a register of names of artwork exist? With their translations? Are there any free books out there to help me?
And what if the artwork hasn't been named yet?
I am still quite young in the industry and being as bold as suggesting the official translation is possible, but would scare me a little.

Could anybody out there enlighten me about the procedure to follow?

Thank you very much,

[Edited at 2015-10-28 12:45 GMT]


Jean Lachaud  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:54
English to French
+ ...
Research Oct 28, 2015

Some research should answer your questions, at least partially.


Local time: 17:54
Italian to English
Yes, they can be hard to find Oct 28, 2015

I've never heard of an official list. Wouldn't that be handy! Often a museum or owner names an object according to internal house guidelines but if the museum you are working with hasn't provided you with any rules then your best bet is to find each artwork mentioned in some reputable publication in French and use that version. I often check Google Books and see how a prominent, recently published scholar refers to the art in question. Sometimes Wikipedia is useful because you can flip back and forth between the artist's page in English and French to see if they are talking about the same artwork. Most of all though, you should be be conversant with the conventions in French that apply to whichever period and culture the artworks belong to. A contemporary sculpture by a living artist may not be translated at all, for example. There are also times when you may just have to make it up! A variation on this is when your translation precedes the original language title in parentheses. Look at some catalogues of similar collections and see how they handle the same issues. Good luck!


564354352 (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:54
Danish to English
+ ...
Europeana, maybe? Oct 28, 2015

I haven't looked closely at Europeana, but I think you may find some useful info here:



Robin Joensuu  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:54
English to Swedish
+ ...
2 Lingual search engine Oct 29, 2015

You can try the 2 Lingual search engine.


It is of course not 100% credible, but it can help as a first research step.


United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
There is almost never a universally accepted translation. Oct 29, 2015

Art is one of my specialist subjects, and I learned this the hard way many years ago, in the days before the internet.

I did a big text for an agency, and told them I was having problems finding the "official" titles of artworks. I actually got them to pay me to spend a morning in the National Art Library in London researching these.

I ended up even more confused than before - it was a waste of time, as there is no consistency. You just have to decide which of the many translations you find online sounds best, and/or is most commonly used. But like so many things in life, there are no definitive answers.


Luna Jungblut  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Member (2015)
English to French
+ ...
Thank you! Oct 30, 2015


Thank you all so much for your valuable advice,
I think 2lingual and Europeana may help!

Wikipedia does have some answers, too...

I am doing of course a lot of research, much of that has proven extremely time-consuming with very little results, hence why I came to you.

Since I am lucky not to be living too far from the museum in question, I will stay on the safe side and simply come in to have a look at the documentation there, some of it might already be translated. I will also be able to ask questions if I'm on site.
What a wonderful job we have!
I will resort to your solutions if I am still missing some bits and pieces.

Good luck to me!
Thank you again,



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'Official' translations of works of art

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