Comprehensive System for Portrait Artist Identification

Portrait Artist Identification

The Fallacy

The romantic notion of portrait artist identification is of a connoisseur who can simply look at a painting and announce the name of the artist with a dramatic wave of the hand. Such a notion can be 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] 

Within the concept of the  “three-legged stool approach” Fine Art Investigations created a  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

Sample of Chronological Fashion Plates

First, Fine Art Investigations (FAI) treats each portrait as an artifact to be date.  The lives of the portrait subject and the portrait artist had to intersect in the same time and place. Thus, the portrait must be pinned in time and place.

The importance of an accurate date of execution cannot be over-emphasized.  To streamline 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 these technological tools, FAI quickly finds the date range. A range within five years is sufficient for artist identification. Though sometims, FAI  can find the exact year and season.

Placing in Space

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

Stylistic Connoisseurship

Discovering the Artist

Custom Database

Portrait Artist Identification with Custom Database

Sample from Custom Database

After the portrait is pinned in space and time, FAI consults its custom database. Painstakingly culled from countless sources, the portrait-specific database contains the names, dates, and locations. Sorting by date and location yields a list of possible artists.

Chronological Image Files

Portrait Artist Identification

Sample of portrait artist image folders and files

From thousands of image files, FAI selects examples of the work of the possible artists to compare with the portrait through stylistic connoisseurship.

Morellian Analysis 

Portrait Artist Identification

Sample Morellian Analysis

In the comparisons, one artist occasionally stands out immediately. If not, FAI uses Morellian analysis, Morellian analysis is an examination of the small details that artists unconsciously repeat. Details such as the manner in which the artist painted an ear, a hand, a piece of lace, or an eyelash. “God is in the details,” they say, and the hand of the artist is in such details.


After identifying the artist, Fine Art Investigations makes every effort to solidify the attribution with experts on the artist. Unfortunately, because academia currently favors  interpretation over connoisseurship and because of fear of litigation, experts can be difficult to find. But every effort is made.

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.


Portrait Artist Identification

Sample Authentication 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 can have the permanency of a hard-cover book. A hard-cover report presents the verifiable evidence objectively. A hard-cover report with its full-color images 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.