Authentication and Evaluation of Paintings


How about retaining a professional authenticator?

Even if you have proved that a painting is an "original," that doesn't mean is it painted by the artist you think painted it. For more valuable paintings (e.g., tens of thousands of dollars and beyond) a buyer or owner may want an authentication report. The more famous the artist -- and the more expensive the art -- the higher the risk of forgery. Even highly trained art dealers and museum officials get caught with fakes -- sometimes way more than they wish to discuss. There are truly brilliant forgers. Many of them live offshore, are very well trained, and produce duplicates -- or even one-of-a kind works that the artists could have painted -- that are hard to distinguish from the "real thing." As forgers become more proficient in their trade, fewer experts are willing to give definitive opinions about authenticity. Collectors have to either become comfortable with this risk or pursue another passion.

Museums and authors are good sources to contact to ask about referrals to a respected authenticator for the artist. Curators at art museums may have expertise in a genre, period, school, or other knowledge to guide you in learning about the authenticity of works of art. They may be willing to refer you to an expert who can answer your questions. At some museums, there are certain days set aside for members of the public to bring in art works for review by staff. Authors of articles and essays who may have written about the artist in question may be found in the TFAO Author Index. You may wish to conduct an internal search of the TFAO site for leads.

Dealers can authenticate works or help locate the appropriate expert. The Art Dealers Association of America says: "A dealer with an extensive history of dealing in a specific artist's work will also build up an archive of information, as well as a body of experience, which can help resolve questions of authorship and title." For the benefit of purchasers, reputable art dealers will guarantee for purchasers the authenticity of their art objects in writing.

Curators, dealers and art consultants may be hesitant to advise people of fraudulent art when they see it, for fear of involvement in potential legal action. They may decline to give advice without saying why in order to protect themselves.

Caution: some referrals to "experts" may not be in your best interests. It's always best when shopping for an important service to select from more than one proposal. References are important if you are not certain about the quality of an expert's opinions. Authentication is many times subjective -- a judgment call -- so second opinions for potentially high value objects can be prudent.

Ask about guarantees and exclusions provided by an authenticator and whether liability insurance is held.


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While Traditional Fine Art Organization, Inc (TFAO) does not provide authentication services, the information in this report is provided as a public service and may be of help to readers studying approaches to authentication and evaluation of their works of art.

Links to sources of information outside of our website are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other websites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating online information see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

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