A lost work by Angelica Kauffmann
April 24 2012
Picture: BBC/PCF/Russell-Cotes Art Gallery
Many apologies for the slow service these last couple of days. Filming for the second series of 'Fake or Fortune?' isn't leaving much time for the day job, to say nothing of blogging...
I'm also scratching my head trying to write a paper for tomorrow's conference at the National Gallery, on the proposed Oil Painting Expert Network (OPEN). I will mention some of the excellent discoveries readers have sent in identifying sitters in lost portraits - so thanks again for those.
I shall also be moving onto the more perplexing area of attributions, and in particular attributing anonymous paintings. In other words, connoisseurship, or, as some art historians say, 'the C-word'. One of the pictures I'll mention will be the above portrait of an unknown sitter at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery in Bournemouth. Described on the Your Paintings website as a copy 'after Beechey', it is in fact a very fine portrait by Angelica Kauffmann. I'm pleased to say that the Kauffmann scholar Professor Wendy Wassyng Rowarth agrees with the attribution (on the basis of photographs).
How do I know this? The answer is of course connoisseurship - the ability to look at a painting and tell, sometimes with no other evidence at all, who painted it. Some people (mainly those who can't do it) think connoisseurship is a dastardly, complicated and snobbish word. But in fact it's a very simple concept, and merely reflects hard work and looking at lots of paintings. And there's nothing snobbish in that. The word itself is derived from the Latin 'cognoscere', to get to know - and if you look at enough Kauffmanns over the years, pretty much anyone can 'get to know' what a Kauffmann looks like. That's all there is to it!
Update - a learned reader writes:
Blessings on your last on ‘connoisseurship’. Which is why serious museums and galleries need curatorial photo-archives. Tell that to the Tate.
Quite! And I also learnt today at the OPEN conference that the noted military historian Andrew Cormack has identified the uniform of the sitter in the above Kauffmann as being the Cheshire militia. Now we just need to figure out who he is. Any ideas?