School, Circle or Studio?

A reader has asked for an explanation of the many different forms of attribution used in art, such as ‘circle of’, ‘manner of’, ‘after’, etc. It’s no easy task to definitively link a painting with a particular painter (unless it’s one of the great Masters who have institutes and world experts on hand to do it), so such terms give galleries and auction houses space to offer a qualified guess, or cover up the fact that they actually don’t have a clue, and don’t want to stick their necks out and get it wrong.

I’ve taken the following terminology from one auction house’s website,* and although they caution that every house or gallery has their own individual cataloguing terms and house style, those below are quite standard terms I’ve seen used across the board.

“Attributed to” –  In our opinion, probably a work by the artist

For example… (although this one is definitely NOT by Dobson!):

Rachel Wriothesley

Rachel Wriothesley (1636-1723) by William Dobson (attributed to)
©Carmarthenshire Museums Service Collection , no date given


Circle of”
In our opinion, a work by an unidentified artist working in the artist’s style and during the period of the artist’s life.

Anne Cecil
Lady Anne Cecil, c. 1635, sold at auction as circle of Van Dyck


“After”In our opinion, a copy by an unidentified artist of a named work by the artist.

 After Walker
Portrait of Oliver Cromwell, After Robert Walker


“Follower of”In our opinion a work by an unidentified artist, working in the artist’s style, contemporary or near contemporary.

Follower of Lely
Portrait of a gentleman, bust-length, in a black robe and a white lawn collar, feigned oval, Follower of Peter Lely


“School of” – In our opinion, a work executed at that time and in the style associated with that artist.

“Manner of” – In our opinion, a work by an unidentified artist working in the artist’s style but at a later date, although not of recent execution.

“Studio of” – In our opinion, a work likely to come from the studio of the artist or closely associated with the artist.

So as you can see, it’s not always a straight-forward matter when trying to identify a painter! Some pictures are of far better quality than others, requiring a second-glance and a closer inspection to be sure it is NOT by the original artist. In other cases, however, it is patently obvious that the picture concerned is not by the artist claimed, and that the attribution has probably been made by someone who has little knowledge of the period or its painters. This brings  us back to the argument on connoisseurship and the need for people who study and become intimately familar with an artist’s signature brushstrokes and mannerisms. Surely we can’t truly know our great painters without them?



Previous Post
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

NT Knole Conservation Team Blog

An insight into the weird and wonderful life of a National Trust Conservation Team at one of England's greatest houses.

Cryssa Bazos

17th Century Enthusiast

Warring Words

Writing about the English Civil War

Painted Eloquence

An art history blog

%d bloggers like this: