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« Leonardo and the Oversight Factor. | Main | Poussin Connoisseurship Project resumes »



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Good debate here. I must, however, disagree strongly with this statement:

"It's [connoisseurship] an innate, instinctive skill one either has or doesn’t. It cannot be taught or acquired despite how long one studies, their rank, or how much their art knowledge. It is a truly unique and art attributional skill, with tangible results."

Nothing could be further from the truth. One might as well suggest that a baby, never having looked at a painting, could pronounce on the work of Leonardo.

Graeme Cameron


Your statement on Connoissership was actually further qualified above, in my response to Dr. Edward Goldberg’s kind comments, on the same point you raise, please see above. It is therefore important to restate that there are in fact “Two Types of Connoisseurship”, just as in Music there are “Naturally Gifted” Composers like Beethoven and “Acquired/Taught” composers who are taught and/or who cumulatively acquire their skills. And yes, contrary to your belief, Beethoven could indeed from completely within his mind, create and then transpose onto paper an entire symphony, due to that first type of “Naturally Born Gift”.

Likewise in Fine Art Connoisseurship there are “Natural Connoisseurs”, with “Naturally Gifted” form of faculty, (as in your words - "The Purist Form”), being the ultimate degree of this skill. Some very fortunate people naturally possess that form innately. There is also the “Acquired/Taught Connoisseurs” faculty of the skill, (the most common form), which is the Acquired/Taught manifestation, resulting in varying degrees of proficiency. By a remarkable coincidence of timing, you have on your Blog actually related from your own personal experience, that “rare epiphany” of the ultimate degree of the “Naturally Gifted” First Type of the faculty, occurring within your customary “Acquired/Taught” Second Type daily practicing of the skill. Likewise a “Naturally Gifted” Connoisseur also further enhances their innate born skill through time, by additional intensive study and experience, etc. –

Kindly quoted from your article - “Connoisseurship - a brief demonstration “ - August 23rd. 2012

"And it is still possible to make attributions based purely on looking at a painting - that is, connoisseurship in its most traditional and purest form. The portrait above is an interesting example. It came up for sale in a minor London auction last year, described as 'Circle of Joseph Highmore'. The sitter was unidentified. I had seen the picture in the catalogue but it was only a small thumbnail, and I paid little attention to the illustration. However, the moment I stood in front of the picture my reaction was; 'that's by Ramsay'.
The problem is, I cannot entirely explain why".

"That is, beyond the fact that it reminded me of other portraits by Allan Ramsay that I have studied over the years. It was an instinctive reaction (though it rarely happens like that). And therein lies the connoisseur's Achilles Heel, for this is what makes critics of connoisseurship uncomfortable. Today's world demands instant proof and irrefutable verdicts. But explaining a judgement based on what we might call old-fashioned connoisseurship is exceedingly difficult, no matter how articulately one sets out comparisons of brushstrokes, colour and composition. Just saying, 'because it looks like a Ramsay', won't really do".

In closing, despite our differences on various matters, had I been back in the UK I would most gladly accompany your defence of the skill at the coming conference, against the farrago of past misinformation, with facts and many case histories of the faculty of “Natural Connoisseurship” proven in action, perhaps as a “Sancho Panza” in that quest.



Thanks Graeme - but here's the key phrase in explaining my reaction to the Ramsay sleeper:

"it reminded me of other portraits by Allan Ramsay that I have studied over the years."

Without repeated study of Alan Ramsay's works, I would not have been able to make the link. So although, like all judgments, there was an element of instinctive reaction, that reaction was not possible without a great deal of study first. Therefore, it is not tenable to hold that connoisseurship is something that "cannot be taught or acquired."

David Packwood

Bendor and Graeme,

Thanks to both of you for more comments. I'll update the comments on another post at the end of the week.



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