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SUBJECTIVE  METHODOLOGIES
&
THE USE OF TECHNOLOGIES

"This approach dispassionately and reliably eliminates the human errors, bias and outright fraud." Old Master attribution was anything but science until the advent of modern, forensic, diagnostic technology. Historically, Old Master attribution is likened to the reading of tea leaves. For the most part determining the authorship of Old Master paintings consisted of nothing more than educated guesses and in some cases outright fraud perpetrated by self-appointed experts. Often the expert issuing the opinion had a vested interest in the outcome. Through the years attributions have always been biased to the positive. If nothing prevented a painting from being a Rembrandt, a Rubens or other important artist, the expert would call it so. Decisions on attribution were often based upon very dubious circumstantial evidence or money received under the table. Often the opinion was based upon a certain irreproducible and mystical "feeling" that the painting gave to the expert.
    Particularly condemning is the comment of Harry Ward Bailey, a former representative of Christie's in Rome. Bailey states: "Sometimes there are pictures whose authorship can only be guessed at. What we would do is to have our experts bring a random volume from Bénézit (a monumental work cataloging every known artist of history) and close their eyes, open a page and point at random. The experts would then look at everyone's choice and see whose period and style might closest fit the picture. That was how our experts found the attributions."
    Clearly, a challenge has lingered to find a better method of attribution. The most controversial choice made by Veritus was the application of forensic technologies that would involve the use of computers to make all initial attribution decisions. This approach dispassionately and reliably eliminates human error, bias and outright fraud. This technology bases conclusions upon forensic evidence that does not require subjective, human opinions.
    The Veritus philosophy has created howls of outrage among many art dealers, art historians and most self-appointed experts. Particularly strong has been the criticisms among art dealers and experts who maintain secret relationships where the issue of expertise is limited only by the fee paid and among those art experts whose expertise has been consistently proven false. In all fairness, no human wants to entertain the thought that he or she could be replaced by a machine. However, in today's world such replacement is reality. Take as a case in point Garry Kasparov, the grandmaster chess champion, who was forced to rethink his position when he was dethroned by a computer.

Signature Evaluations

"... a signature, even if proven genuine, means very little..." Most successful, important Northern European Masters painted for several decades. Rembrandt, for example, painted for approximately 40 years. During the careers of these Masters, they all maintained studios where a large number of students painted and learned the Master's techniques. Often a commission was painted for a client by one or more of the Mater's students and then signed or monogrammed by the Master before it left his studio. This procedure was a common and very well documented practice during the Baroque Era in Northern Europe. Rubens sent a group of paintings to Spain accompanied by a letter that stated the paintings were by his best students yet signed by him. The letter stating the true authorship still exists; however, many of these paintings were attributed to Rubens by self-appointed experts.
    Many paintings attributed to the Master were signed with the Master's signature years after they were painted and some even long after his death. These factors have historically created significant problems when considering the proper attribution of a work. The philosophy of many experts has been to provide attribution to the hand of the master if the signature looks convincing. Unfortunately, this conclusion is very far from the truth. The reality is that a signature, even if proven genuine, means very little in establishing the true attribution of a painting. The majority of misattributions discovered by Veritus were signed with convincing and occasionally genuine signatures.

Color Palette Analysis

"...human perception and abilities diminish with age." This form of research is commonly used by experts. However, it is a well established fact that each person perceives colors in a slightly different fashion. That factor is why one person will say that a color is greenish blue while another will argue that the color is in actuality bluish green. Color palettes can be indicators of authorship. As an example El Greco during his Italian period painted several very fine copies of art works that he studied. These art works are often recognized by their palette colors. Color usage has long been an important tool applied by experts to determine a painting's authorship.
    An exceptionally gifted expert can identify several thousand different colors. Unfortunately, human perception and abilities diminish with age. This truism has historically created a difficult problem when it comes to attributing works of art. By the time experts gain the training and experience to make scholarly evaluation, they often no longer have the physical ability to do so with great accuracy.

The Educated Eye

"...witness the absurd expertises issued by experts well beyond the age of retirement." This somewhat mystical approach is the keystone to all expertise issued in the last two centuries. Occasionally backed with historical research, the expert issues opinions based upon appearance of the work of art. Unfortunately, the results from this ill-conceived approach have yielded such comments as: "Out of the 70 paintings history has documented as painted by the artist, over 200 are in collections in the USA and Europe."
    The educated eye also suffers from the same problem as color palette analysis. Unfortunately, human perception and abilities diminish with age. This adage has historically created a difficult problem when it comes to attributing works of art. By the time experts gain the training and experience to make scholarly evaluation, they often no longer have the physical ability to do so with great accuracy. One only has to witness the absurd expertises issued by experts well beyond the age of retirement.     Veritus has documented that the success ratio of many well established experts is approximately one in five paintings being accurately attributed.
Results and Implications
"Many of the top experts of the last hundred years had a success ratio of less than 20 percent..." Thus, if we analyze the subjective methods that have been used for generations, it is easy to conclude why so many mistakes in attributions have been made. Many of the top experts of the last 100 years have a success ratio of less than 20 percent in determining correct attributions. What is even more surprising is that with the dubious methods of analysis these experts employed, correct guesses resulted 20 percent of the time.
    Although it is clear that the day of subjective analysis is over, no one should judge the success or failure of the opinions of experts of the last 100 years by the today's standards.. Today's world is different than the world that was occupied by the experts of yesterday.
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