16 April 2010

Article: Authentication (1998)

Title: Authentication: Science & art at odds?
Authors: Duane R. Chartier and Fred G. Notehelfer
Reference: Scientific Detection of Fakery in Art. Proceedings of SPIE (SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering). 29-30 January 1998, San Jose, California. Volume P 3315, 74-86, 1998
Link: http://www.conservartassoc.com/spie.html (html)

Contrary to popular belief, there is a very great difference between the detection of forgery versus the authentication of works of art. Science is generally very good at producing evidence of falsification but often is equally poor at proving authenticity. The primary reason for these gross differences is that connoisseurship and art history are more strongly involved in the process of authentication than are scientific testing and analysis. There is also a pronounced lack of substantive interaction between art conservation professionals, scientists and art historians.
The case of a recently discovered painting by John Constable will be used to illustrate the difficulties and opportunities of a balanced and systematic approach to the process of authentication. There is much more than science involved in such endeavors and this would not surprise anyone who has attempted to introduce works of art through non-traditional channels.
Great problems arise when the curatorial community is asked to consider works that do not so easily "fit" into a neat art historical period or stylistic pigeonhole. Connoisseurs often will only accept the best works of an artist and discount the inevitable products of the artist's evolution -- less accomplished works. Scientific principles and technical evidence can and must be used in order to elevate the practice of authentication.

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