Fascinating details of a painting’s history and provenance may be found on the reverse side. Examples include incised marks on wood panels, labels, and inscriptions that may include signatures, dates and artwork titles. These details must be protected as they contribute context and value.

I record all the text from labels and stamps in my conservation database to facilitate cross-referencing.

Labels

Exhibition and inventory labels, labels from art dealers, restorers and owners are typical kinds of labels found on the back of paintings and picture frames. Label loss or fragmentation may result in the irrevocable loss of critical information.  As integral components, labels are included in my treatment process to ensure their preservation.

Artists’ Colourmen Stamps

Artists’ colourmen (art material supplier/makers) frequently applied stamps such as the one shown here to stretched canvases supplied in standard sizes. British colourmen and associated marks and stamps have been well documented. Colourmen stamps may help date an undated painting, or even help identify a forgery if the stamp date does not correspond with the artist’s dates.

Winsor & Newton canvas stamp

Signatures and Monograms

Clients are disappointed when a signature is not present or apparent, and lack of artist identification admittedly has a negative effect on market value. Signatures and monograms may be found on the front or back of paintings, and if the work is heavily soiled, may be difficult to see. Signatures that initially appear illegible may, with experience and prolonged study, may sometimes be discerned.   If only the first letters of the surname are legible, a search of online alphabetical lists of artists’ names may prove helpful.

Monograms of lesser known artists were previously difficult or impossible to identify. Thanks to the internet, monograms may be found in artist’s signature and monogram databases. The order of letters does not need to be known in order to search the database. This monogram belongs to British artist James Lawson Stewart, whose watercolours are found in the collection of the Museum of London.

The significance of this sole inscription on a 19th century British India portrait was eventually determined after years of  research.  The sitter, “A.F. Bruce,” was Alexander Fairlie Bruce (1799-1875), a Madras civil servant, son of Sir William Bruce of Stenhouse, 7th Baronet.  The A.F. Bruce portrait is shown in my post Conservation Framing>A Good Fit.
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