How to keep your family portraits out of the thrift shop

A collage of unidentified family portraits found in a local thrift/antique shop. Not one portrait had any identifying information.

A collage of unidentified family portraits found in a local thrift/antique shop. Not one portrait had any identifying information.

The anonymous oil portraits

Recently, a local estate furniture shop fell into the possession of two oil portraits on tin.  The style of dress suggested the portraits were done during the mid-to-late 1800's.  It was obvious the portraits belonged together, perhaps husband and wife.  Historical research based on the clothing of the couple determined they were Austrian. The man was dressed in an Austrian military uniform from the late 1800's. The only identifying marks were the initials "TR" posted in the lower right corner of each portrait.

Somehow, the portraits found their way to the rural estate shop. The estate members who sold the portraits did not know who the couple was, nor the connection to the estate family. Indeed, they believed the portraits were of French origin.

I was intrigued by the story and trekked to the furniture shop to view the portraits. The idea just clawed at my brain that someone had spent the time, money and energy to document themselves in oil paintings. And yet, these beautiful portraits ended up "anonymous."

The anonymous portrait photos

My next stop was an antique/thrift shop in a neighboring town.  Again, meaningful portraits that someone had spent time, money and energy towards were found throughout the shop.  Some contained the name imprint of the studio where the portrait was made, but no other information could be found on any of the portraits.

The loss of family history

Oh my, what stories are laying in those lost memories, the lost history?  Someone who was important to a lineage is missing. The foundation story of a family is shortened; connections, lessons, and inspirations are lost.

Is there a way to prevent your family portraits from becoming forgotten remnants?

Provenance

Typically, in the world of masterpieces/high end auction houses, provenance refers to the proof of authenticity and ownership.  Even the Lotus Car Company provides provenance for automobiles made after 1957!  Premiere portrait studios are also offering certificates of provenance with purchased art pieces.  A certificate of provenance is attached to the back of the portrait in order to "follow" the artwork for the rest of its existence.

The information contained in the certificate is enough to mark the history of the artwork. Future generations not only have a written record of who is the subject, but also documentation about the importance/authenticity of the piece.  This will lessen the likelihood of an expensive legacy or heirloom portrait ending up in a thrift shop 60 to 150 years after it's creation.

An example of a Certificate of Provenance that can be attached to the back of any important artwork/heirloom portrait.

An example of a Certificate of Provenance that can be attached to the back of any important artwork/heirloom portrait.

If your portrait studio does not provide a certificate of provenance, create something similar and attach it to the back of your important portraits.  After all, if you are going to spend the time, money and energy for a beautiful heirloom portrait, it is worth documenting who is in the portrait for future generations.

Questions?

If you have any questions or comments about certificates of provenance, drop your words over on the Facebook page.

Also, for those of you in the Dayton, OH area, I'll be in Dayton August 16 and August 17.  I have two portrait sessions left.  Call me at 240-203-7794 to arrange your gorgeous heirloom portrait that tells your story.