What's the Difference Between Subjective and Scientific Art Analysis?

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In the past, art forgeries could only really be detected by art historians using subjective analysis techniques. Today, you can also use a range of scientific analysis tools to test the provenance of a painting or piece of art.

What's the difference between these two methods of analysis and which one is the most effective?

What Is Subjective Art Analysis?

In a subjective art analysis, an art historian will examine a painting or piece of art to determine its authenticity. Some historians are experts in the work of a certain artist, school or time period; others have more generalised expertise.

Here, the expert looks at a piece to try to find commonalities or differences with other works by the same artist. Experts develop a feel for the way a painter worked and can easily tell if a piece doesn't quite fit their typical work or style. For example, they will look for consistencies and anomalies in the piece. If they are examining a painting, then they will look at factors such as brush stroke patterns, the use of colours and the subject matter in the painting.

If they notice that something doesn't look right, then they might suspect that the painting is a forgery. For example, brushwork that is very different to the strokes on the artist's other works would set off alarm bells.

What Is Scientific Art Analysis?

Scientific art analysis uses technical evaluation tools and techniques. It tests the validity of an artwork in an objective way to prove or disprove authenticity.

For example, you can use microscopy to analyse paint fragments from a piece. You can determine if the paint dated from the artist's lifetime. You can also analyse how the paint went on the canvas and use computer modelling to then compare this pattern with the artist's other work. Or, you can use radioactive carbon dating to test a small piece of canvas or flakes of paint. The carbon in the canvas or paint is dateable. If the dating process shows that the canvas or paint post dates the artist, then you know the work is forged.

Which Art Analysis Technique Is Best?

While an expert art historian can pick up many forgeries, others slip through the cracks. Expert forgers are technically gifted. They know what an expert looks for in provenance terms and can recreate artworks to tick these boxes. You can't, however, fool a scientific analysis tool. These tests can see deeper into an artwork than even a trained art historian's eye. They provide factual proof based on proven scientific techniques.

To find out more, contact companies that run scientific art investigation evaluations. If you need help to authenticate an artwork, they can talk you through suitable scientific tests.