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.