Attribution assessment

Grimwade Conservation Services undertakes research into works of art whose authorship is in question.

Painting assessment

This work evolved from studies that used securely provenanced works in the University of Melbourne Art Collection, as well as works from other study collections available to the Grimwade Conservation Services, as the basis for the investigation of the materials and techniques used by Australian artists. Staff at Grimwade Conservation Services, in collaboration with researchers in Earth Sciences, Chemistry, Physics and Art History, investigated a range of materials including underdrawing, pigments, supports, and varnishes. Studies into the original frames used by Australian artists has also been undertaken.

Databases that capture this information have been developed and include Australian artists such as Rupert Bunny, E. Phillips Fox, William Strutt, Arthur Streeton, John Peter Russell, Rover Thomas, Sidney Nolan and Howard Arkley. This work has informed enquiries from the public, collectors and the commercial art market relating to artworks with insecure provenance or attribution.

Attribution study also involves an understanding of provenance and history. Research projects have resulted in the establishment of databases that identify securely provenanced works in public institutions, and the catalogue records for prominent artists.

Researchers at Grimwade Conservation Services have access to advanced microscopy, ultra-violet, infrared examination and x-ray examination techniques. Researchers in the Faculty of Science provide analytical expertise and access to equipment including SEM/EDS, FTIR, XRD and XRF.

VK microscope

The attribution process

  • Step 1 - before seeking an assessment

    Before undertaking detailed examination and potential analysis, custodians of a painting should undertake research into the history of the painting. A secure provenance is the first step in determining the authenticity of an artwork. Documentation such as original labels, exhibition catalogues and photographs are all important pieces of evidence that can secure the authorship of an artwork.

  • Step 2

    Obtain an assessment from an expert in the field, such as an art historian or curator specialising in the period or artist in question. This assessment should consider the stylistic, iconographic and compositional elements of the artwork, as well as chronological fit of the work in the oeuvre of the artist in question, and the security of the provenance, to provide a link to the artist in question.

    If after these steps, you are still uncertain, material analysis may be helpful in providing further information. Please send a photo of the work to us, so that we can determine whether our services may be useful (photos of the front/back/labels are useful).

  • Obtaining an attribution assessment

    The attribution assessment methodology seeks to establish anomalies whereby known and verifiable characteristics of the artist's oeuvre (as determined by reference to securely provenanced works) can be used to assess the match with characteristics in the work presented for authentication.

    In this process, points of identification are determined for securely provenanced works, in relation to the artist in question. These points are then used to assess the work in question. If there are sufficient points of identification evident in the work in question, then it is likely the work will be determined to be a good fit with the artist's work. Where the work has anomalies, and does not present good points of identification, it is unlikely that the work will be accepted as by the artist.

    This process presupposes that the points of identification represent the best evidence at hand. New evidence may alter the findings to the point that the decision regarding the authenticity, or otherwise, of the work can be contested (for example fifteen similar works that are proven to be forgeries may surface with characteristics identical to the work in question, in which case the balance of probability regarding the authenticity of the work in question is challenged). The investigation and assessment of a work for attribution seeks to determine at what points the work could be assessed within the oeuvre of the artist and at what points there may be an insecure fit.

    In order to determine the points of identification a Condition Report of the work is completed. Conservators at Grimwade Conservation Services can undertake this next phase of the attribution process.

  • Step 3

    Detailed Condition Report describing the method of construction of the work in question and identifying the components of the work relevant to the enquiry. The assessment is based on a comparison of the details of the Condition Report with securely provenanced works from the artist whose work is in question, to determine the points of identification. This report can be helpful in building a case for the work, but may not provide definitive attribution.

    The detailed Condition Report includes ultra-violet examination, infrared examination , macro-examination with an optical microscope, and where appropriate, solubility testing.

  • Step 4

    Upon completion of a detailed condition report, if it is deemed necessary, further scientific analysis may be carried out, such as x-ray examination, pigment or binder analysis. These additional methods of examination can be useful in further determining an artist's materials and techniques. However, these further methods of analysis are often only advantageous if there has been detailed research into the artist in question's materials and techniques, or, because of the period the artist was working in, the materials likely to be present can be used to date the work or place it within a certain period.

    A report with findings of the assessment will be provided. It is important to note that Grimwade Conservation Services does not issue "certificates of authenticity."

    Please note that Grimwade Conservation Services does not offer monetary appraisals.

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