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.