Virtually every art museum has works by unidentified artists in their collection. We know what the works are, and based on a variety of information ranging from style, paper, composition, subject matter, and even colors used, can indicate when and where a work was created. What we don’t always know is who made them. Mysteries from Europe is an exhibition that highlights works by these unidentified artists.
In some instances it may be as simple as an item being left unsigned, a common practice by artists prior to the Renaissance. Works once attributed to specific artists are later brought into question by art-world professionals. Drawings are frequently left unsigned, often considered by artists as studies and personal images not necessarily worthy of signing. These can be drawings done as part of a student’s routine study, or sketches by professional artists made to inform later works. Sometimes items are signed, but the artists remain unknown because their signatures are illegible today. Or, works are clearly signed, but the signature does not match the known qualities of the supposed artist in question, and forgeries do exist.
Lacking an identified artist does not mean these objects are without intrigue and interest as works of art. There is pleasure in looking closely and enjoying images without the associated baggage that comes with artistic biographies.
Explore Mysteries from Europe to discover the many possibilities for why an artist remains “unknown.” These mysteries present ongoing challenges to art historians and connoisseurs. Their abilities to look closely, remember details, and make connections to identified works can sometimes lead to a possible identification.
There is a wealth of information available to us today through archives, the internet, published books, journals, and social media that was not available to earlier art historians. During the run of the exhibition, it will be curious to see—will any of the mysteries of attribution be solved?
Mysteries from Europe: Works by Unidentified Artists is an exhibition organized by Phoenix Art Museum. Social photography is encouraged in this exhibition. Share your visit and any clues you find with #EuroMysteries.
Left: Unknown (Flemish or Dutch), Judgment of Paris, 1575-1625, pen, ink with wash, heightened on paper. Museum purchase, 1963.10
Middle: Unknown (Great Britain), Lady MacKenzie and Her Son, c.1750, oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Hiram G. Ross, 1961.57
Right: Unknown (Italian), The Cardinal and His Nephew, not dated, ink and wash on paper. Gift of the Carl S. Dentzel Family Collection, 1985.335
This exhibition is organized by Phoenix Art Museum