Authenticity and the Appraiser

Ralph Osman wrote this thorough and thoughtful essay on authenticity and appraisers several years ago. I’m pleased to share it again with our followers here.

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Art appraisers are often asked to appraise art objects and antiques with no guarantee of the item’s authenticity. In some cases the owner of an object believes he knows what he owns, in other cases he hopes the appraiser can help identify the object. In a few rare cases, the owner may hope to have something appraised as authentic when in fact he knows it is a fake or forgery. Authentication, the process of accurately identifying on object, is important because of its potential impact on the value of the work of art being appraised.

When an art appraiser has reason to question the correct identity of something he is appraising, he often calls on an expert in the field to authenticate the object. By doing so, the appraiser is employing “due diligence” in valuing an object. “Due Diligence” usually translates into hard work, research, a bit of detective work, and ultimately it means honesty and therefore complete disclosure.

The appraiser’s responsibility in this process is to alert the client to the problem, provide advice regarding experts, record and interpret the information obtained from experts and other sources, and, finally, to determine the object’s probable market value.

The question of authenticity really hinges on “adequate identification” as stipulated by the Appraisal Standards Board of the Appraisal Foundation in Washington, D.C., which regulates the appraisal profession. One of the best means of establishing adequate identification is to have clearly documented provenance for the work of art. Provenance is a history of ownership for the piece, ideally from the time it left the artist’s studio to the time it entered the subject collection. Recording and interpreting the history of ownership, exhibition and past research done on a work of art is part of the appraiser’s responsibility in reaching a value conclusion. Appraisal is not guess work. It is the result of assembling hard facts and then interpreting them.

The quick answer to the question of whether an art appraiser is responsible for determining “authenticity” is a qualified “yes.” As a function of the requirement of “accurate identification” and of the legal principle of “due diligence,” along with professional ethics involving a “standard of care,” the appraiser must exercise reasonable care and produce substantial evidence to justify the value conclusion.

The best policy - for the appraiser as well as the client - is that of complete disclosure. One nationally prominent appraiser and a regular adviser and expert witness for the IRS, the U.S. Customs and major insurance companies says with regard to disclosure, “...tell them everything you know and tell them everything you don’t know.” Inevitably there will be situations when the authenticity of a piece will be disputable. In such cases the appraiser must use “due diligence” and completely disclose his procedures, keep accurate records, build a convincing case for his conclusion and hope he is right.

Many collectors wonder when and if they should have artwork authenticated. For older works of art, where the provenance is not entirely clear, and where the dollar value may be high, it is advisable to have an authentication on record. To achieve this, the best thing a collector can do is to engage the appraiser with the best credentials, the least potential conflict of interest and the best client referrals. Although art appraisers are not licensed, the best are certified and tested by several appraisal associations. Membership in such an organization, while it cannot guarantee an appraiser won’t make a mistake, does guarantee that the appraiser knows the proper procedures, has gone through peer review and adheres to strict ethical guidelines.


As Art Collections Grow, So Do the Places That Stash Them

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Yes, even the biggest collectors run out of wall space! Great article from the NY Times about where all that art goes.

Art sales are climbing worldwide, according to a report on the art market, rising to $63.7 billion in 2017. Which raises the question: Where are people putting all that art?

“Dealers have to store it, then they sell it to collectors who have to store it, then they donate it to museums that have to store it,” said Todd Levin, an art adviser in New York.

As a result, storage companies are scrambling to keep up with the growth by expanding their facilities and offering more services to meet demand as collectors and galleries run out of room.

Guarantees: the next big art market scandal?

Third-party auction deals have made some people very rich—but they may be bad for the market in the long run

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I saw this super article from the Art Newspaper that shines a light on this murky corner of the art market.

Third-party guarantees at auction—the art market’s hybrid of a risk hedge and a speculative gamble—are on track to hit an all-time high of around $2.5bn in 2018. On the face of it, guarantees offer a high level of certainty: the auction house secures a consignment and the seller receives a minimum price, whatever the outcome of the sale. But after the 2008 financial crisis, when sales tumbled and in-house guarantees forced auction houses to pay out large sums to consignors, they all but disappeared between 2008 and 2010.

Read more:

Estate-Planning Strategies for Art Explained.

“Three experts offer advice for clients who own valuable paintings, antiques and more.”

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Choosing a Qualified Appraiser. What to Ask, What to Know.


Ideally, the appraiser should have specific expertise in the type of object you are seeking to value.They should belong to one of several professional appraiser associations who frequently test, educate and certify the competence of their members.

All Members of the Appraisers Association of America are required to adhere to a strict “Code of Ethics” which ensures unparalleled standards of ethics, conduct and professionalism. The code requires the appraiser to serve the public interest as follows:

• provide independent valuation outside of third party influences

• retain no outside interest in the subject property other than an accurate and professional value

• contract for appraisal work only within the areas of their professional expertise

• reach objective value conclusions by considering all factors in appraisal standards

• use the highest standards of connoisseurship in examining and documenting property

• professional remuneration is independent of the value of the subject property


Personal property appraisers are not licensed by the state or federal government. In theory anyone can claim to be an appraiser. Therefore it is of critical importance to review the appraisers' curriculum vitae. Determine how many years the appraiser has been practicing and if possible obtain referrals from friends, colleagues, museum staff, auction companies or attorneys in your geographic area. While it is certainly possible to prepare an appraisal based on photographs and supporting documentation, nothing can replace an expert appraiser's personal inspection of an item. This is particularly true of higher value items where determining the authenticity and physical condition is essential to arrive at an accurate valuation.

Before you contact the appraiser, gather all available documentation you may have on the object including: artist, title, medium (oil on canvas, lithograph, pastel etc.) size and date of execution. Prior appraisals, invoices and a brief history of how you came to own the work are also very helpful. From a practical point of view, the more information you can provide the appraiser in advance, the less he will charge you. Cataloging an item from scratch is time consuming. If possible, have good quality digital photos of the item ready to send the appraiser in advance.


Original or Reproduction? A Guide to the Basics.

I receive many calls each month from clients who excitedly explain that they have inherited an original Monet, Degas, Renoir or other famous artist. Dollar signs are flashing and I can hear the excitement in their voice as they wait for me to confirm their good fortune.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the work turns out be a photo-mechanical reproduction of an original painting or work on paper.  These reproductions were created across Europe and America from the 19th century to the present day. Then as now, they were made for people to decorate their homes and offices with the latest art of the period.

(Please note that these reproductions are distinctly different from original prints, which are created by the artist, usually in limited quantities and which can have significant value. More on original prints in another post!)

These works were not forgeries, created to deceive or mislead the buyer into believing they were purchasing an original work. They were simply wall decoration, produced with the latest printing technology. In the 1850's, with the advent of photography, new printing processes were developed in which a work of art could be photographed, the image transferred to a printing plate and multiple copies produced. These early photo-lithographs or "collotypes" were often the same size as the original artwork, in color, and sometimes included the artist's signature as well. Once framed and hung in the family parlor, they became "originals" to succeeding generations who inherited them or purchased them at a later date from the estate.

How do I tell?

One fairly straight forward method of determining if your work is a reproduction is to check for the tell tale"dot pattern" in the image which indicates the image was created from a photograph. To do this, remove the work from the frame and glass. If you are afraid of damaging the work, take it to a professional framer in your area. With a ten power or higher loup or magnifying glass, choose an area of the work where a dark and light area meet and examine it closely. You will need to hold the loup quite close to the surface. Check various different sections of the work. If you do see a series of dots then say hello to your very own reproduction.

If it is a reproduction, is it worth anything?

Older reproductions even if they are in excellent condition and nicely framed, rarely have a Fair Market Value of more than $500.00. There are always exceptions and a qualified appraiser should be able to advise you.

Beyond the Name: Why the Subject Matter, Matters.

People often buy works of art based on the name alone. They mistakenly believe that if an artist is famous they are making a solid choice and that the work of art will maintain or increase in value over the years. The appraiser must often be the one to inform the owner that while is work is indeed by Monet it is not worth $3,000,000.00 but closer to $300,000.00

Certainly the stature of an artist within his period is of great importance, however, equally important is the subject that the artist has chosen to depict. Almost every well known artist has an acknowledged "hierarchy of subject matter" that the discerning collector or investor would do well to study. It is this specific expertise that the qualified appraiser applies in reaching a value conclusion.

For example Eugene Boudin (French, 1824-1898) was, as his Wikipedia entry states was: "one of the first French landscape painters to paint outdoors. Boudin was a marine painter, and expert in the rendering of all that goes upon the sea and along its shores. His pastels, summary and economic, garnered the splendid eulogy of Baudelaire; and Corot called him the "king of the skies".

From this brief description one might conclude that a scene of a harbor or waves crashing on a beach might be just the thing to buy, and indeed the artist produced many splendid examples of these subjects during his lifetime. However, the most prized and highly valued work by Boudin today are small scale paintings referred to as "Crinoline Pictures", which depict elegantly attired women and men on the shore, often with striped changing tents in the background. The actual ocean is seldom in evidence and the sky is rarely an active element of the composition.  These works trade regularly at auction in the $500,000.00 to $1,500,000.00 range. A more traditional beach or harbor scene of similar size would sell for between $50,000.00 to $100,000.00 today.

Whether you are purchasing, selling, insuring or donating a work of art, a specialist appraiser can assist you in making these critical distinctions.