Arts & Culture:
Once you have an understanding of what the artist's actual signature looks like, then it is important to know what subject matter or style an artist is, or has become, famous for - what we call their signature image/style. Was the artist known for their wild abstract works, or their more academic pieces? Did they have a specific subject matter that they are famous for (figurative, landscape, floral, marine, etc.)?
If, like many people, you are only going to buy one work by a particular artist, it usually pays to stick to their signature pieces. These works will usually be the easiest to resell because they will have the widest appeal. On the other hand, if you become a collector of a particular artist then you will almost certainly want to branch out and acquire a variety of styles and subjects. However, even then, the core of your collection will, more than likely, contain many works featuring that artist's signature imagery.
A good example of this can be seen in the works of Edouard Leon Cort?s. Here is an artist who is widely known for his ability to capture the city streets of Paris in all their glory. However, what many people do not know is that he also painted beautiful landscapes and interior scenes in Normandy and Brittany. Most collectors of Cort?s' work focus on the various views/monuments of Paris; but at some point they all seem to branch out, adding examples of his landscape and interior views to their collection (see the slideshow for examples of his work).
Now, there are some artists who do not have a signature image, but have a signature style. In that case, stick with the signature style. Artists like Monet and Renoir would fall into this category - both were important Impressionist artists, but painted a variety of subjects - from figures to landscapes to still lives. If you were to collect their art, the core of your collection will probably consist of a variety of subjects done in the impressionist style.
Keep in mind that some artists might have more than one important signature image. A nice example of this can be seen in the works of Julien Dupré. While Dupré is famous for his images of French peasants during the latter half of the 19th century, there are two subjects that he consistently painted... the haymaking scenes, and those featuring the farmhand tending the cows or sheep. If you wanted to buy just one Dupré for your collection, then you can choose whichever subject appeals to you most (examples of each style are included in the slideshow).
Now, having said all that, in the end it still comes down to this... even if you are only going to acquire one painting by an artist, buy what you like since you are the one who is going to look and live with it!
Howard L. Rehs
Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York City