WHAT the reader will find in my essays is an endeavour to put into words the characteristic qualities of various painters. At the same time he will be given the fragmentary results of a student's experience of attribution problems which, though often ridiculed, nevertheless seems to me if not the purpose at least the basis for any serious art research, and in which those gentlemen who look haughtily down on it also participate --though generally with little talent.
I must warn the reader against the mistaken notion that it is possible to recognize the work of a particular painter through implicit faith in a formulated characterization. Failure to do so does not necessarily discredit or refute the characterization. I myself never use fixed ideas of my impressions as a means of attribution and harbour grave misgivings against all persons who use quotations to establish, attack or defend attributions. Correct attributions generally appear spontaneously and 'prima vista'. We recognize a friend without ever having determined wherein his particular qualities lie and that with a certainty that not even the most detailed description can give.
Such unthinking recognition may be regarded as unscientific whilst the 'method' that Giovanni Morelli imagined, or asserted, that he had found may be admired as scientific. I am convinced that Morelli for all his method would have achieved nothing had he not been a talented connoisseur, more, I am convinced that he never used his method but that he shrouded the results of intuitive connoisseurship in a mantle of false erudition to make them appear unassailable to the naive mind.
Attributions cannot be proved or disproved. And mistakes are only recognized as mistakes when they wither and die. Here the only criterion for truth is that it should prove fruitful. A correct attribution evokes further attributions, a false one, even if it is armed to the teeth with powerful arguments, cannot endure and in due course will prove null and void.