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CURRENT COLUMN

The Case of Dubious Due Diligence
The Case of Dubious Due Diligence

The Case of the Olympic Posters
The Case of the Olympic Posters

The Case of the Solitary Surrealist
The Case of the Solitary Surrealist

The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt
The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt

The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity
The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity

The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys
The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys

The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard
The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard

The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910
The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of the Archangel Michael Defeating Satan

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2

The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light
The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light

The Case of Leni and the Nuba
The Case of Leni and the Nuba

The Case of the Seductive Souvenir
The Case of the Seductive Souvenir

The Case of the Irish Surrealist
The Case of the Irish Surrealist

The Case of the Developing Dalí
The Case of the Developing Dalí

The Case of Nano-D Technology
The Case of Nano-D Technology

The Case of Dabatable Donations
The Case of Debatable Donations

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of the Long-tailed Monkey

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of Edgar Heap of Birds

Silent Song
The Case of the Silent Song

Aficionado
The Case of Alex and the Art Aficionado

Portrait
The Case of the Privacy of the Publicity Photo

Potter
The Case of the Potter's Portraits

The Case of the Coy Cornelius Krieghoff

The Case of the Political Portraitist

The Case of the Reconsidered Revolution

The Case of the Anabiotic Abbey

The Case of the Phoney Picasso

The Case of Setsuko Piroche

The Case of being on the Forest Edge with Vern Simpson

The Case of Being at the End of the Storm with Loren Adams

The Case of Being: Under the Table with Thomas

The Case of Wyland's Whales on Walls

The Case of A.Y. Jackson's Smart River (Alaska)

The Case of Red Fish with Blue Breasts

The Case of Looe Poole

The Case of Camaldoli

The Case of MS

The Case of the Misattributed Emily Carrs

The Case of the Doubtful Dürer

The Case of the Purloined Picasso

The Case of the Defrocked Duchess of Devonshire

The Case of the First Wife

The Case of the Dodford Priory

The Case of the Unknown Actor

Art Services & Materials


Confessions Back

Practical Art History
(or Confessions of a Fine Art Appraiser)

by Jim Finlay
Finlay Fine Art
jim_finlay@telus.net

Chapter 31. The Case of the Idiosyncratic Signature and the Indecipherable Monogram

One of the never-ending challenges I face with increasing frequency is that of decoding the identity of an artist who has signed their work with an illegible signature or indecipherable monogram.

One would think that artists, after spending many hours on a painting which they were proud of, would have no hesitation in signing their work using clearly written and easily legible penmanship. For example, Canadian artist Arthur Lidstone (1903-1986) usually signed his paintings in capital letters, first name followed by last name, ARTHUR LIDSTONE. Well done, Arthur.

Arthur Lidstone signature on paper

Arthur Lidstone signature on paper

Arthur Lidstone signature on canvas

Arthur Lidstone signature on canvas

Artists’ signatures change over time due to perhaps physical or medical disability, age, indolence or arrogance. The medium in which the artist works also affects the readability of the signature. The brevity with which drawings are done on paper is usually reflected in an adumbrated signature, making it difficult to decipher. Artists do not consider a drawing to be of equal importance to a painting and therefore do not take the time to adequately render their moniker.

Generally, signatures on sculpture are almost always easily read, which may reflect the time commitment, effort and expense it takes to create a sculpture as compared to a painting. The longevity of a cast bronze statue for example, would suggest that the maker adequately reflects his identity by making a mark of permanent legibility.

Signatures of well-known artists tend not to change over time and are usually clearly rendered. The signature becomes somewhat of a trademark or monogram in that the artist makes a point of signing his work in the same way so as to replicate his trademark and to be permanently identified with it. It seems that as an artist becomes more well-known and collectible, their products are “branded” by using either an identifiable signature or monogram.

Then, we have artists who, for aesthetic reasons, do not sign their work on the front but prefer to sign on the back for fear of the signature compromising the artistic integrity of the image. I can understand this from an artistic point of view, however, when you are showing off your newly acquired masterpiece to impress guests, it would be a lot easier and less embarrassing to point to the signature on the front rather than taking the painting off the wall to search for the signature.

The artist who prefers to use only the first initial of his last name is also problematic. To me, this speaks of both audacity and timidity. It’s similar to saying that if you can guess who did this great painting, I will admit to doing it. Alternatively, it says that if you consider this to be a great piece, I will graciously accept your praise and admit to doing it.

The use of one letter of the alphabet may be a way to develop a trademark for the benefit of an enlightened few, but it seems a bit redundant when the intent is to be readily identifiable to as many potential buyers as possible.

Next: The Case of the Wisham Fisherman

 Fri, Jul 6, 2012