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Meet Art Detective, Britain’s New Method of Identifying Public Art

'The Forge of Vulcan' COURTESY ART DETECTIVE

‘The Forge of Vulcan’

COURTESY ART DETECTIVE

The Financial Times has a story today about Art Detective, a new method of crowdsourcing the identification of public art works in Great Britain about which little is known, from subject to artist.

From the piece:

It’s the first thing you want to know about any painting in oils: what is the scene? Or, with a portrait: whom does it depict? Close behind these questions comes the itch to name the artist. All large art collections hold works for which there are no answers, and Britain is home to one of largest. Distributed throughout the land, not just in galleries but in town halls and public offices, army barracks and hospitals, even fire stations and Scout headquarters, are more than 160,000 oil paintings that are known to be the work of at least 37,000 artists. There remain, however, another 40,000 with no artist’s name attached, about 1,200 unidentified portrait sitters, and countless unnamed landscapes, buildings, and ships.

The result is a virtual case-conference, to which anyone can butt in, but the argument is mostly among a pool of people in the trade – art dealers, historians, museum curators. They have warmed enthusiastically to the task, with some showing extraordinary depths of knowledge and research. During weeks of discussion about Abingdon’s “Venus”, one post arrives with a wealth of detail about English and Continental armour, cavalry gear and forges – the “lobster-tailed pot-helmet” worn by Mars, the anvil with either “a hardy hole” or a “pritchel hole” (“You would expect to see a square hardy hole from the late 17th century”). A feature is made of the ornamental glass-and-silver “saddle-flask” in the foreground, until someone else points out that “er, the flask on the floor is actually a quiver of Cupid’s arrows”.

Art dealers and historians are reportedly chiming in at a rapid pace. No word yet on whether or not Bloomberg reporter Katya Kazakina (@artdetective) intends to sue for copyright infringement.

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