Portrait Dating

The people whose faces are preserved in 19th century American portraits were the well-dressed man, who paid as much attention to collar height, tie width, shirt style and jacket cut as men today, and the well-dressed woman, who had more fluid fashion choices, but who nearly always dressed in the latest style.  The fashions a sitter wore can narrow the date a portrait was painted to within a year or two, and occasionally, to the month.  We compare the portrait with our custom chronological files of over 6,000 images of fashion plates and dated portraits and photographs. Portrait dating serves as a tool for identifying the artist and the sitter to ensure their paths crossed at the same time and place.  Among the facts we discovered through portrait dating:

  • a daughter was the portrait subject, not the mother, as originally believed
  • a presumed famous subject of a portrait was actually 700 miles away from the artist’s studio and on the verge of bankruptcy at the time the portrait was executed
  • another portrait subject lived a 1,000 miles from the mis-attributed artist
  • a student’s ability to mimic his teacher’s technique confused their work until dating clarified the differences in their work
  • a portrait subject’s dress style confirmed that the woman and the relatively famous artist were both in the same place at the same time and helped to correctly re-attribute an artist



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