'Portrait of a Man'

April 17 2012

Image of 'Portrait of a Man'

Picture: PCF/Your Paintings/Nottingham University

Last week I mentioned the forthcoming conference (25th April) at the National Gallery on the proposed new Oil Painting Expert Network (OPEN). OPEN will help under-resourced museums and galleries identify any mystery paintings in their collections, and provide advice on cataloguing and conservation. Thanks to those of who have signed up to come along - we now have over a hundred people attending. If you want to come you can still do so, and it's free. Here's the day's agenda.

I'll be giving a short talk at the conference, and will reveal a few hidden sleepers in our public collections. Here's a very simple example of how wider access to images can help with attributions. This portrait, in the collection of Nottingham University, is called 'English School', and described as 'A Portrait of a Gentleman with a Black Sash'. Most of you (I hope!) will know straight away who he is, and recognise the significance of the blue sash. Find the answer below, by clicking 'read on'.

Update - a reader writes:

Glad to hear of the OPEN initiative - it seems eminently sensible - but hasn't something along these lines been going on for the last few years. The National Inventory Research Project has published its results on the NICE website: sadly some (any?) of their conclusions are not reflected in the PCF data on Our Paintings. Lack of joined-up thinking?

There are more fundamental problems of course; aside from attributions [...] the searches in the online databases of the Royal Collection, the National Trust and Your Paintings simply do not work as they should and make interrogation a frustrating exercise.

As far as I can see, there are major probems with data-field definitions, resulting in inconsistencies.

None of this would have happened if the major collections in this country, and the PCF, had taken a joint approach to database development and cataloguing.  The databases at the BM and the V&A are excellent - despite the sheer range of types of object they have to deal with: in the case of the former one can even search on previous owners, which is great for provenance research of course. 

If these organisations have been able to come up with something workable, why haven't the others?  It appears there was nothing to stop the development of a national database covering everything, not just paintings.

I agree that the BM and V&A sites are excellent, and models for everyone to follow. I know that the PCF and the Royal Collection have developments ongoing to improve searchability. Hopefully, it won't be too long before all these sites work well together. And if a body like OPEN gets up and running, we can nail as many incorrect and dubious attributions as possible. 

When the PCF began, it was  interested in merely photographing and recording the paintings in the national collection, taking the view that to try and do that alongside any attributional exercise would be impossibly time consuming. I think this was the right approach. 

Portrait of George III, Studio of Alan Ramsay.

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