AGO intern solves long-standing photo attribution mystery

AGO intern solves long-standing photo attribution mystery

Abel Boulineau, In Old Pauze (Image: Art Gallery of Ontario)

A new exhibition opening this Saturday at the Art Gallery of Ontario proves that interns are, in fact, worth their weight in gold. Last summer, University of Toronto museum studies graduate student Vanessa Fleet determined the authorship of an anonymous collection of photographs during her term at the AGO. Acquired in 2005 from an anonymous donor, the collection contains 1,702 photographs of pre-industrial rural life in France between 1897 and 1916. The photos were previously attributed to French photograper Émile Fréchon before Fleet correctly identified it as the work of Paris-based painter Abel Boulineau.

Fleet’s prior academic work on turn-of-the-century France got her assigned to the collection, and her dogged research ultimately led to her discovery of an address, town and birth date scribbled on the back of a picture: “Auberive, Abbatiale Avenue, where I was born on March 16, 1839.” Upon contacting the parish responsible for records in Auberive, Fleet found only one matching entry for this date, a “Boulineau, Abel-Marie Nicolas.”

The connection between the AGO photographs and Boulineau was confirmed when Fleet found a photograph that clearly served as the basis for Boulineau’s painting “The Washerwomen.” Sophie Hackett, the assistant curator at the AGO who initially assigned the project to Fleet, told Eye that she’s stunned at the discovery. “It’s the stuff of careers to figure out who did something, to answer the question, ‘Who created an unknown work of art?’ It’s a dream to have somebody pin down an attribution.” Score one for interns.

“Where I was Born…”: A Photograph, a Clue, and the Discovery of Abel Boulineau runs from March 5 to August 21 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St. W., 416-979-6648,

• Looking for Clues [Eye Weekly]
Unknown Photographer Discovered by U of T by Student Researching at the AGO [AGO]