Connoisseur

norman rockwell

A connoisseur [kon-uh-sur] (meaning ‘to be acquainted with’ or ‘to know somebody/something’) is a person who has a great deal of knowledge about the arts and is an expert judge in matters of taste.

Internationally, the term is also used in gastronomy (in connection with fine food, beer, wine, tea, and many other products whose consumption can be pleasing to the senses). The ability to tell almost instinctively who painted a picture is defined as connoisseurship. Modern connoisseurship must be seen in context with museums, art galleries, and ‘the cult of originality.’

Connoisseurs evaluate works of art on the basis of aesthetic conclusions. Judgment informed by intuition is essential, but it must be grounded in a thorough understanding of the work itself. The responsibility of the connoisseur is to attribute authorship, validate authenticity, and appraise quality (on the basis of empirical evidence, refinement of perception about technique and form, and a disciplined method of analysis). These findings can be collected and organized into a catalogue raisonné of the work of a single artist or a school.

In his ‘Meaning in the Visual Arts’ (1955), Erwin Panofsky explains the difference between a connoisseur and an art historian: ‘The connoisseur might be defined as a laconic art historian, and the art historian as a loquacious connoisseur.’ Art historian, Philip Mould says, ‘it, it is about noticing things which have specific characteristics of the artists involved, as opposed to general characteristics of the era.’ His colleague, Bendor Grosvenor, takes the view that connoisseurship is learned by looking at paintings and cannot be taught in the classroom. He believes that it has become unfashionable in the world of art history and as a result, activities such as producing a catalogue raisonné are undervalued by the establishment. Nonetheless, Christie’s Education offers an MA in the History of Art and the Art Market that includes a seminar on connoisseurship.

However, during the 18th century, the term was often used as a synonym for a still vaguer ‘man of taste’ or a ‘pretended critic.’ In 1760, Oliver Goldsmith said, ‘Painting is now become the sole object of fashionable care; the title of connoisseur in that art is at present the safest passport into every fashionable Society; a well timed shrug, an admiring attitude and one or two exotic tones of exclamation are sufficient qualifications for men of low circumstances to curry favor.’

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