Comprehensive System for Portrait Artist Identification

Portrait Artist Identification

The Fallacy

The romantic notion of portrait artist identification as a connoisseur who 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” moment to someone who knows the work of an artist well. Evidence may often confirm that initial feeling, but the evidence may also uncover the work of a student or colleague. Fine Art Investigations uses a logical, replicable process of evidence gathering to demonstrate the identification conclusively and vets the identification with other experts.

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.”

A Comprehensive System

  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 chronological images of more than 3,000 fashion plates and an equal number of  dated portraits.  Through experience, and with the help of the technological tools, Fine Art Investigations can quickly pinpoint a range of dates within five years, and often to the exact year and season. Art historical documentation and provenance  yield the region where the portrait was painted.  Through this process, the artwork is fixed in time and place.

  1.  Stylistic Connoisseurship

In stylistic connoisseurship, FAI compares the portrait with images of the work of the possible artists using a custom database and chronological image files.

Custom Database

From hundreds of sources, FAI painstakingly culls names, dates, and locations of 19th century American portrait artists and places them in a database. The database efficiently provides the names of the portrait artists in the particular region at the time the portrait was created.

Chronological Image Files

When adding names to the database, FAI simultaneously locates images for each portrait artist and adds them to the chronological image files. These files efficiently provide comparison images for the portrait artists in the particular region at the time the portrait was created.

Morellian Analysis 

Occasionally, one artist stands out immediately. If not, Fine Art Investigations uses 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, to determine the probable artist.

After the identification is made, Fine Art Investigations makes every effort to solidify the attribution with experts on the artist.

  1. Technical or Scientific Analysis

Because the sale prices of 19th century American portraits do not yet reach astronomical levels, forgeries are not profitable, so Fine Art Investigations advises scientific examination only for high value artworks in order to ensure a consensus of evidence, FAI arranges a scientific examination at the best facility closest to the client’s home.

  • Chronological images of more than 3,000 fashion plates

Examples of Artist Identifications


The final step is a report. The report can be as simple as an emailed statement for a non-binding attribution or as permanent as a hard-cover volume. Reports present the verifiable and replicable evidence objectively and systematically with full-color images.

  • Portrait Artist Identification Report
    A Sampler of Fine Art Investigations Authentication Reports