An Artist's Signature: Remember, that just because a work has a signature on it, does not mean that it is by that artist. I see hundreds of "fake" paintings each year and many of them are constantly being bought and sold. Some of these works were actually created in an attempt to fool a buyer while others were done by artists in an honest attempt to study different styles and techniques (I am sure many of you have visited a museum and seen artists making copies of works on display). What you want to make sure is that you are not one of the unlucky collectors who ends up buying one of these copies or forgeries as this could, and most likely will, be a very costly mistake.
It is important that you have some familiarity with what an artist's real signature looks like. Did they normally use a monogram? Did they use their full name? Did they sign with an initial and then their last name? Was it printed or done in a script style? Did they normally sign in a dark color (black) or in a lighter color (red)? It is also important to note if, and when, an artist changed the style of their signature as this will not only help you date a work, but may help you determine if the work is authentic. For example, very early paintings by the French Realist artist Julien Dupré were signed with a script signature. Then there was a transitional period when he used either a script or block letter style; and finally there is his classic block letter style (see the images in the slideshow).
Now, if the individual selling a painting tells you that it is an early example, but the signature style is from a later period this should raise a red flag. In addition, many, but not all, artists will consistently use the same color (black, red, etc.). So, if the work you are considering is signed in red and you know that the artist normally used black, you need to ask a few more questions to be sure that the work is right.
Like we always say, it pays to do a little homework before you venture out into the art world jungle. Check out the dealers who are considered experts by their peers and build a relationship with them... a good, and trusting, relationship will go a long way in protecting you and your money.
Howard L. Rehs
Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York City
Read the whole series
Buying Art the Basics Part 1
Buying Art the Basics Part 2
Buying Art the Basics Part 3
Buying Art the Basics Part 4
Buying Art the Basics Part 5