Redensek belongs to a distinct art world subculture—comprised of curators, conservators, researchers, and other market professionals who routinely flip paintings over—that has honed a connoisseurship of the backs of artworks that rivals the attention paid to the surfaces. “The verso of a painting can hold nearly as much information as the recto,” noted Katy Rogers, president of the Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association and co-author of the catalogue raisonné of ’s
paintings and collages. Added Andrea Liguori, managing director of the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation: “Examining the back of a painting is nearly as important to us as examining the front.”
A painting’s face communicates its art historical context, but its reverse often carries the history of the artwork itself. On the backs of canvases, stretcher bars (the wooden framework holding the canvas in place), and the undersides of frames, careful examiners can often find inscriptions left by artists, last-ditch attempts to advocate for works once they’ve left the studio. Versos are also frequently marked by dealers, collectors, and museums, with notations ranging from greased pencil notes to wax seals, exhibition labels, and inventory numbers. Taken together, these markings are akin to a painting’s passport, representing its identity, travels, and even changes of address.
The artist’s notations usually serve as a means of ensuring that important information about a work—such as its title, date, and authorship—is preserved as it changes hands. But the practice is individual; some artists share more curious details or use both sides of a canvas. Artists who have continually reworked canvases may cross out bygone titles previously inscribed on stretchers, leaving hints about images cloaked beneath layers of superimposed brushstrokes.