Three-Legged Stool Approach

In the 1920s, George L. Stout, now more famously known as the inspiration for the George Clooney character in The Monuments Menwas a conservator with Harvard’s Fogg Museum of Art. With an inter-disciplinary group of scientists, art historians, and fellow conservators, he  developed the three-legged stool approach to art authentication.[1] 

Scientifically based, the three legs are:

1. Provenance
2. Connoisseurship
3. Scientific examination

Three-Legged Stool Approach

Thomas Rowlandson, The Opera Singers, 1790-1795
Yale Center for British Art

When the system was created, connoisseurship alone was the standard. Stout wrote that questioning a connoisseur’s opinion, “was as naughty as inquiring about the digestive system of an opera singer…it wasn’t proper. And that was very good for the trade.”[2] Logic and science gradually caused a change in both thinking and practice. The three-legged stool concept is now the accepted norm ethically and judicially.


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[1] National Academies Press, Scientific Examination of Art: Modern Techniques in Conservation and Analysis (National Academies Press, 2005), 42-43

[2] Ibid, 43.