Ever wonder what information is included in a museum label? In this post, we’ll dissect the different parts of an object’s label to see what they can reveal about the artwork.

Surf, Elliot Torrey, (East Hardwick, Vermont, 1867–1949, San Diego, California), c. 1920, Oil on canvas, 30 in. x 36 in. (76.2 cm x 91.44 cm), Gift of Mr. A. H. Marks, 1923.1

We’re going to use the very first object the Akron Art Museum acquired as an example. Elliot Torrey’s painting Surf evokes the sound of waves crashing against ocean rocks. Known for his seascapes, the artist selected varying shades of green, grey, and brown to add a moody tone to this scene, as if a storm is just starting to brew.

Now, let’s take a look at the label for this object.

The first three lines of the label indicate the title of the artwork, the name of the artist, and the artist’s birth and death dates, if known. Some museums also include the artist’s nationality.

The fourth line records the date the object was created. In this case, we’re unsure of the exact date this painting was made, but we think it was sometime around 1920. So, we admit that uncertainty by saying “c.1920.” The “c.” stands for “circa” or, “around 1920.”

The next line lists the materials used in creating this artwork. This painting was made using oil paints on canvas.

Next up we have the dimensions of the work. The Akron Art Museum uses imperial system measurements first (inches and feet) followed by metric system measurements (centimeters and meters) in parentheses. It is often the reverse at other institutions.

The line following the dimensions is called the credit line. This reveals how the object came into the museum’s collection, whether by purchase, bequest, loan, or donation. In the case of Torrey’s painting, it was donated to the museum by Mr. A.H. Marks.

The last line displays the object’s accession number — 1923.1 “1923” denotes the year the museum acquired the object and the “.1” that follows reveals that it was the first object to enter the collection that year. Likewise, 1923.2 would be used for the second object that entered the collection in 1923, and so on. Most museums use this same accession number system or something similar, so if you’re ever curious about when an object was acquired by an institution, just look for the accession number!

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