Art Terms Explained

Mary Tye, Village School East Anglian Magazine - Original 1955 pen & ink drawing

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 Part I: Attribution

The art world like any other has its own vocabulary – or jargon, to give its less favourable name. Whilst part of the beauty of art is its ability to stand alone without attendant words or explanation, when we do try to describe an artwork it is important that the terms are specific and universally understood. 

In this, the first post in this series about art terms, we look at the various phrases around attribution – a vital lexicon which can make or break the value or importance of a picture. Of course, the science (or art) of attribution itself is a potential minefield, but it helps at least to have a handle on the implications of the various terms used.

Attributed to, Probably, Possibly: These terms indicate, in increasing degree, a level of doubt over whether a work is by the named artist. The qualifications of the person attributing the work, as well as its provenance, determine the legitimacy of these terms.

Studio of, Workshop of: This means that the work was produced in the named artist’s studio or workshop and importantly, the concept is by the named artist. Although created by students or assistants, the work would have been intended to leave the studio as by the named artist.

Circle of: This is used to indicate that a work is of the period of and resembles the style of the named artist.

Follower of: This is when an artist of unknown identity was working specifically in the style of the named artist. They may or may not have been directly trained by the named artist.

Style of: This is used to indicate a stylistic relationship; the work may or may not be contemporaneous with the named artist.

School: Used when the specific artist, studio or following is unknown, this term indicates a geographical area of origin.

After: This is used to define a copy of any date, explicitly by a different artist from the named artist.

Imitator of: This is used (somewhat euphemistically!) to mean a copy executed in the style of the named artist with the deliberate intention to deceive.

Signature: This term confirms that a work is signed with the signature of the named artist.

Bears signature: This is used to indicate that a signature is on the work and it may be by the named artist.

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