About this site

The stimulus for the site came out of a work still in progress—a family biography—during which I discovered the existence a number of family portraits, but not their ownership or locations. Sold at auctions, passed down through families many portraits are now out of their context, and are perhaps unknown faces on walls, or neglected in attics. Of course some may be lost forever.

On the assumption that my family is not special, how many more orphaned portraits must there be across the country, indeed the world? If there are threads running through this site they are the Jewishness of the sitters at the site's launch, and some of the portraitists, and the Slade School of Art. It is not surprising that four of the initial painters on the site were students at the Slade, as were were four members of my family.

A seemingly unimaginable number of people are interested in researching family histories and, united with the art world, could provide a powerful force for finding lost works and identifying unknown sitters.

Starting with the portraits I have identified, listed by artist rather than sitter, my aim is to provide a repository (secure and off-line) of information on ownership/sitters and to create anonymity in exchanging information between owners and researchers, though the exact nature of the website and its functions will develop with demand and I hope grow with use. I have not included photos, I think there would simply be too many, but there are some braver people here! Nor am I concerned with stolen works, the province of the Art Loss Register.

Art historians can bring their knowledge of portrait painters’ styles, settings, costumes, and background props, in order to help date and narrow the range of possibilities for identification of a work. They too may be searching for works by particular artists where the location of a painting is unknown.

For whom is this site intended?

• Researchers (like me) into orphaned family portraits;

• Owners of portraits who may or may not know who the sitter is;

• Art historians.

Do revisit the site as even within my own family there are still subjects to be added. In particular my subjects cover a relatively brief period, from the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth; it would be good to extend the period.

I shall be adding portraits as and when I am sent them: in May I added nine new images including the first from outside my family, and some that are not missing, but of unknown sitters. Several more are in the queue so I hope you will revisit the site.

If you have found it interesting, or even if you have not, you can tell me via the contact page.


Colin Cohen—1 June 2011

Site 2010-12 Colin Cohen

bringing together ‘orphan’ portraits and
Orphan of the Month