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How to Determine a Painting (Original or Reproduction)

If you are buying a painting for your own enjoyment, buy what you like and what feels reasonable. But buying a work of art as an investment is very different. It is not so much the art as who painted it, and the provenance: the proof of the artist’s actual connection to the piece.

  1. Do your homework.Research the piece, know the artist’s work, look at many of his pieces, compare signatures, get close-ups of the signature. Increasing your knowledge is critical to examining the piece and knowing what to look for when judging authenticity.
  2. Visit museums study the patinas.If you ask to see the back of a painting, the staff may show you. Examine the feel and look of old art works. Study the depth and number of layers of paint needed to achieve the color desired by the artist.
  3. Look at the front and back of the piece.
    • Examine the patina of the piece itself: dirt and dust of the ages, texture, the brightness of colors, or lack thereof.
    • Study the canvas; do a thread count, modern or old?
    • Is there some patina on the back surface of the canvas?
    • Look for anachronisms. If the canvas is stapled on the back of 1800’s piece of art, something is wrong.
  1. Look at the patina of the wood to determine whether the wood is old.Determine how the frame is put together, considering what kind of nails and hanger are used.
  2. Look for bristles.Painted copies sometimes will have hairs from the cheap paint brush still in the paint on the canvas.
  1. Use your nose.When you do get your hands on the painting, smell it. It takes oil a while to dry and years to completely lose the smell of oil.
  2. Decide about how the piece feels to you.Balance everything, many fakes for example have no depth of paint, layers, it’s easy to copy a piece electronically but a photo copier cannot get the layers of paint a real piece has.
  3. Check for consistency.A fake painted copy needs everything else to match, frame wise, and a patina is hard to reproduce.
  4. Get the work appraised.If it is something you are in love with, you need a third party to independently review it, someone who is not in love. How do you know if the appraiser is reliable? He or she should have a certificate from one or more of the professional associations of art appraisers, have a history of work with the particular artist or medium or period, and preferably not be a dealer or broker of art himself.
  1. Note that some dealers, perhaps including those on cruise ships, may attempt to confuse the buyer with sizes and periods, even mediums to sell a lesser piece at inflated prices.Look for signature and number. For prints they must be signed, and numbered, Signed in stone is of little interest, because unlimited copies can be drawn.
  2. Research the gallery.Many pieces will have gallery stickers or information written on the back. Research that gallery to learn whether it is. Look for signs of wear. There should be some signs of wear, on the frame, even the canvas sometimes. Wooden edges not quite as sharp after 50, 100 years, and drier. Research the artist for reputation. Know that some artists are known to have signed blank paper, which later have prints drawn on/from them, which means the artist did not even supervise the pulls. These would be of significantly lesser value.