New connoisseurship conference

April 24 2016

Image of New connoisseurship conference

Picture: codart

Codart, the 'international network of curators of Dutch and Flemish art', is devoting its annual conference this year to connoisseurship, which is great news. The keynote speaker is Prof. Christopher Brown, former director of the Ashmolean, who (I can vouch from personal experience) is a most formidable connoisseur. The opening pitch for the conference sums up the connoisseurship dilemma perfectly:

Connoisseurship has long been at the heart of the work of attributing an artwork – that is, associating it with a specific artist, period, and/or location. Ever since the 17th century, attributing works of art has ranked among the foremost tasks of the art historian. Traditionally, attribution is predicated on meticulous examination by a connoisseur. Yet for some time now, art-historical attribution has been virtually absent from academic training. Indeed, it has even been denigrated as an unscientific, anachronistic activity. For museums and the art market, however, it has lost none of its significance.

It's a shame that the programme of speakers is entirely devoid of anyone from the art market - which of course is the area where connoisseurship is practised most intensely.

I see also that Martin Myrone from the Tate is speaking, and regular readers might remember from an earlier conference where I spoke alongside him (at the Paul Mellon Centre) that he is no fan of connoisseurship. 

Update II - any discussion of connoisseurship amongst museum curators needs really to address the question of why so many museums refuse to allow their staff to give opinions on other people's paintings. Not only does this arbitrarily cut curators off from wider discussions about pictures and attribution, but it also creates two classes of object; those that happen to be in public ownership (good) versus those that are privately owned (bad). It is usually in the latter world that the most interesting discoveries are to be made - so why should museums refuse to comment on them? Museums and curators should follow Sir Nick Penny's dictum (as discussed with me in my podcast here) - 'the picture comes first'. Who owns it, or what (gasp) it might be worth, is irrelevant.

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