Buying Art - The Basics: Part V - Authenticity

Arts & Culture: Authenticity

Most people are concerned about a work's authenticity, and they should be. Every day many works of art are sold that were never created by artist they are purported to be by.

So, how can you tell if a work is authentic? Unless you are an `expert` on the particular artist or period of art, or actually watched the artist create the work in question, you cannot. The general art buyer needs to rely on the advice of a reputable art dealer or gallery... one that will stand behind every work they sell and guarantee the authenticity in writing.

Now I know that some of you will tell me that your favorite gallery offered you a "Certificate of Authenticity," or COA. Here is what I have to say about a COA --- do not be fooled by those pieces of paper ... many are not even as good as the paper they are printed on. More important than a COA is the gallery's invoice. Confirm it clearly states that they guarantee the work to be by the artist and if, in the future, it turns out to be a forgery/fake they will refund your purchase price. Check that the artist's name is clearly spelled out. For example: if you are buying a work by the 19th century French Realist artist Julien Dupré, make sure the invoice states Julien Dupré (1851-1910) and not something like J. Dupré, painting signed Julien Dupre's, attributed to Julien Dupré, or just Dupré (there were other artists who signed their paintings with the same last name).

You should also determine if there is a "recognized" expert for the particular artist and verify that the work in question has either been seen/authenticated by that individual or is listed in the current catalogue raisonné (the definitive book on the artist's life and work).

Remember, that just because a work has a signature on it, does not mean it is by that artist. I see hundreds of "fake" paintings each year and many of them are sold. Some of these were actually created in an effort to fool a buyer and others were done by artists in an attempt to study different styles and techniques. I am sure that many of you have seen young artists copying works by the great masters in your local museum - sometimes these copies will enter the market years, or decades, later. Not that the artist was attempting to fool anyone, but some dishonest individual had taken the piece and passed it off as a work by the master. If you are one of the unlucky buyers of a copy/fake this could, and most likely will, be a very costly mistake; one that you may not find out about until years, or decades, later.

Like I always your homework. 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.

Run the accompanying slideshow to see illustrations of real and "fake" works.

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

Authentic Julien Dupre, Une Prairie
Copy of a painting by Julien Dupre
Authentic Edouard L. Cortes, Boulevard de la Madeleine
Fake Edouard Cortes. This work is actually an Antoine Blanchard, bearing a Cortes signature.
Authentic Antoine Blanchard, Boulevard de la Madeleine

Howard L. Rehs

After graduating from New York University in 1981, with a degree in Art History, I moved to London for a year to study and buy 19th century British Victorian art for our gallery. Since then my interests have included all schools of art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, I am considered one of the leading art dealers in 19th century French Academic and Realist painting and the world's exp...(Read More)

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