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Challenging cases for art history detectives

Fruitlands curator Michael Volmar and old friends.

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Fruitlands curator Michael Volmar and old friends.

The Davis Museum recently acquired an 18th-century painting from Peru called “Portrait of a Young Woman.” Both the artist and the subject are unidentified, although Wellesley College art professor James Oles has convincing theories as to the answers to both of those questions. A bigger mystery, though, is why the painting has a tag on the back identifying it as the property of the Warner Bros. Studios prop department.

Among the items being displayed at the Concord Museum in a temporary exhibition on 19th-century craftsman William Munroe is a miniature sideboard. Though smaller pieces were usually made as toys or for doll houses, this one has a pair of interlocking hearts on its top, revealing its intent as a romantic gift for the creator’s wife. The sideboard was lost to the family for decades, and its whereabouts was revealed to Munroe’s descendants by the exhibition’s curator, David Wood, after he traced it to a museum in Delaware.

An exhibition at Fruitlands Museum this winter called “Relics of the Pergolas” showcases items from museum founder Clara Endicott Sears’s summer home, which was torn down in 1961. The display includes busts of gods and philosophers, half of which have illegible names or are unidentified. One was recognized just this month by a board member attending the museum’s annual meeting, leaving four with no name to go with its face.

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