Comprehensive System

Comprehensive System of Artist Identification


The Fallacy

The romantic notion that a connoisseur can simply look at a painting and announce the name of the artist with a dramatic wave of the hand is a dangerous fiction. The first blink moment may bring an “aha” to someone who knows the work of an artist well. Evidence may confirm that initial feeling, but just as often the evidence may uncover the work of a student or colleague, or may show that the initial feeling was just plain wrong. Fine Art Investigations uses a logical process of evidence gathering to come to a conclusion.

The Facts

The College Arts Association, which promotes best practices in the visual arts, expresses the legal and ethical standard for accurate artist identification as a consensus of evidence from:

  1. Art-historical documentation, including provenance
  2. Stylistic connoisseurship
  3. Technical or scientific analysis [1]

Fine Art Investigations  uses this “three-legged stool approach.”

  1.  Art-historical documentation, including provenance

FAI treats each portrait as an artifact to be dated. The importance of an accurate date of execution cannot be over-emphasized.  To simplify the process, FAI compiled a chronological visual database of more than 3,000 fashion plates and an equal number of chronological dated portraits.  Fine Art Investigations can quickly pinpoint a range of dates within five years, and often the exact year and season. Art historical documentation and provenance follow and yield the region where the portrait was painted.  The artwork is then fixed in time and space.

  1.  Stylistic Connoisseurship

The next task is to determine the artists who were in the same region as the subject at the time the portrait was painted. From hundreds of sources, FAI painstakingly culled names, dates, and locations of 19th century American portrait artists and placed them in a database, while simultaneously locating images for every portrait artist in the database

In stylistic connoisseurship, FAI compares the portrait with images of the work of the possible artists. If more than one artist stands out, Fine Art Investigations performs Morellian analysis, an examination of the small details that artists unconsciously repeat, such as the way an artist paints an ear or a hand, a piece of lace, or an eyelash.

After identifying the probable artist, Fine Art Investigations makes every effort to vet the attribution with experts on the specific artist.

  1. Technical or Scientific Analysis

Since the values of 19th century American portraits, unfortunately, do not yet reach astronomical levels, forgeries are not an issue; forgeries would not be profitable. But, to ensure a consensus of evidence Fine Art Investigations arranges a scientific examination at the best facility closest to the client’s home.

Examples of Artist Identifications


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All Rights Reserved

[1] Standards & Guidelines, CAA Guidelines, “Authentications and Attributions: Recommendations and Practices, 3.B.,” College Art Association