Comprehensive System for Portrait Artist Identification

Portrait Artist Identification

The Fallacy

The romantic notion of a connoisseur simply looking at a painting and announcing the name of the artist with a dramatic wave of the hand is a dangerous fiction.

The Facts

The College Arts Association (CAA) promotes best practices in the visual arts. In  Standards & Guidelines for Authentications and Attributions, CAA expresses the legal and ethical standard for accurate artist identification.

A consensus of evidence from:

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

This “three-legged stool approach” is the foundation of Fine Art Investigations’ comprehensive system for portrait artist identification.

Comprehensive System

Art-Historical Documentation, including Provenance

Placing in Time

Portrait Artist Identification through Accurate Dating with Fashion Plates

First, Fine Art Investigations (FAI) treats each portrait as an artifact to be dated.  The portrait must be pinned in time and place.

Aim = an accurate date of execution determined by researching /dating the clothing of the subject

Tool = chronological image files with more than 3,000 fashion plates and an equal number of dated portraits

Placing in Space

Provenance may provide the region where the portrait was painted. If not, with at least one good clue, through careful research and genealogical expertise, FAI can locate the region.

Stylistic Connoisseurship

Discovering the Artist

Custom Database

Portrait Artist Identification with Custom Database

Aim = find the artists working in the region at the time the portrait was painted

Tool = a database containing the names, dates, and locations of 19th century American portrait artists, painstakingly culled from countless sources. Sorting the database by date (time) and location (place) provides a list of possible artists.

Chronological Image Files

Portrait Artist Identification

Aim = perform stylistic connoisseurship by comparing examples of the work of the possible artists with the portrait

Tool = chronological image files of examples of the work of 19th century American portrait artists

Morellian Analysis 

Portrait Artist Identification

In the comparisons, one artist occasionally stands out immediately. If not, FAI uses Morellian analysis, an examination of the small details that artists unconsciously repeat. How an artist painted an ear, a hand, a piece of lace, or even an eyelash can be the “tell” that reveals the hand of the true artist.


After identifying the artist, FAI makes every effort to solidify the attribution with experts on the artist.

Technical or Scientific Analysis

If the artwork proves to be of high value, then Fine Art Investigations arranges a scientific examination at the best facility closest to the client’s home. Such an examination helps to ensure a consensus of evidence.


Art Authentication

Sample Report

The final step in portrait artist identification is the report. The report can be as simple as an emailed statement for a non-binding attribution or as sophisticated as a full report. A full report presents the verifiable evidence illustrated with full-color images. As a hard-cover book, a full report can be not only a permanent record but a keepsake.

Portrait Artist Identification

  • Chronological images of more than 3,000 fashion plates



(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2018
      All Rights Reserved


[1] B. 3.

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