In part 2 of this ongoing series we looked at the Fundamentals of Specifying Art. This time, we’ll investigate provenance.

In the art world, provenance can be a crucially important attribute of a work of art. The term is based on the French word provenir, which means “to come from”. Strictly defined, provenance describes the source of origin, the chronology of ownership and the history of an object. Provenance is used to provide evidence for the authenticity of works of art as well as books, archaeological specimens and other objects of historical and monetary value.

Certificates of Authenticity
One of the most common documents for artwork is a Certificate of Authenticity (COA). These may take a variety of forms, but in general a COA will include

– the name of the artist
– the name of the publisher or printmaker
– date the work was created
– edition number (if applicable)
– materials and processes used

It’s important to note that a COA should be issued by the original artist or publisher at the time the work is created. Anyone else creating a COA after-the-fact, such as a gallery, dealer or auction house, usually cannot guarantee the authenticity of the work if an original certificate was not obtained.

The provenance of a work of art can refer to its creation (by whom and when it was made, and using what materials) in addition to the work’s custody since its creation. Thus, the provenance of an artwork is one of the most influential factors affecting its perceived value, mainly because it establishes its authenticity. Good provenance can increase the value of a work of art; indeterminate or undesirable provenance can decrease the value.

What to look for

So when considering the purchase of fine art, you should always investigate the provenance of the work and be confident in the completeness and factual accuracy of the information you receive. Of course, if you’re buying an inexpensive poster print or other unlimited reproduction, provenance may not be important. But if you’re paying anything more than a few dollars for a piece of art, you owe it to yourself to ascertain

a) that the work is genuine and was actually created by the named artist,
b) exactly how and when the work was originally created (or reproduced),
c) who previously owned or possessed the work, and
d) how and where the work has been handled, displayed and stored.

Types of documentation

Proof of provenance is dependent on accurate, truthful documentation and certification by recognized authorities. Expert certification can make the difference between an artwork being worthless or worth a fortune. Any records provided ideally will be authenticated by the original artist or art publisher; established and respected galleries and dealers may also provide reasonable proof of provenance. Examples of documents commonly used to establish provenance include

  • Original artist signature on the work (however, this is easy to forge!)
  • A signed certificate of authenticity, either from the artist or a respected authority
  • A label attached to the artwork by the artist or gallery
  • Verbal or written statement(s) or audio-visual recordings from the artist
  • Sales receipts
  • Lists of previous owners
  • News clippings and other samples of media coverage pertaining to the artwork
  • Inclusion of the artwork in exhibit catalogs, auction records, etc.
  • Appraisals from respected authorities and art experts
  • Testimonials of qualified people who know about the artwork and/or the artist

Authentic provenance is based on fact, not presumption. Any references to a particular piece of art must be specific enough to precisely identify that work; generalizations about the artist or other similar works are inadequate. In other words, if something is not known for certain about a work of art, it cannot be used to help establish provenance.

However, even specific documentation and certifications are increasingly fraudulent. There have been many well-known cases of false provenance, which significantly affects the market price of counterfeit works and, when exposed as fraud, creates major problems for all parties involved.

Read more about art forgeries
NY Times Fake Art Prints -Big Business
Fake Jasper Johns sculpture
Counterfeit Art on Ebay
F.B.I. article
NY Times Murky Laws

More benefits of good provenance

For an original, one-of-a-kind work of art, good provenance establishes its uniqueness. Even for fine reproductions such as giclée prints, establishing provenance can help prove the reproduction was authorized and as such can increase the value of the print. Provenance can help assure the buyer of the inherent quality of the work: documents that describe the processes and materials used in the creation of the work can provide confidence regarding the archival qualities of the art (how long it should survive without significant change) which also affects its collectible value. For collectors, knowing the provenance of a piece of art makes it more fun to own, because you know more of the story behind the work.

Provenance is most important to establish when purchasing work from an existing inventory but is also important when commissioning new work. If you pay to have original work created just for you, be sure to get appropriate documentation that establishes the provenance for the work. Having these records starting from when the art is first created will help establish and maintain the value of the work over time.

At Nat Coalson Fine Art + Design we take provenance very seriously. One of the benefits of ordering original artwork or fine art prints from us is Guaranteed Provenance.

If you’d like to learn more about provenance, visit the links below
Wikipedia
ArtBusiness.com
Forbes

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