Before purchasing a painting a person needs to understand what he or she is looking at, know how the art market favors or disfavors an artist under consideration, be able to evaluate the worth of the artwork and the reputation and credibility of a seller — or find a qualified person who can assist.
Before buying an expensive painting, it’s wise for a buyer to study the artist’s life and accomplishments and be able to recognize his or her peerless artistic techniques, concepts, compositions, themes and periods; distinguish the extent of a painting’s restoration (if any); and discern whether or not a signature, any accompanying documentation, and expert opinions are genuine and accurate.
It is better to buy a small exquisitely painted subject executed during an artist’s greatest painting period, than it is to purchase a poorly painted large canvas from an artist’s worst period. The main objective of astute buyers is to select thoughtfully artworks that represent taste, affordability, and value that hopefully will enhance their lives, aesthetic environments, and investments.
The most expensive or valuable paintings typify an artist’s most triumphant period and display pre-eminent technical competence, innovation, and unique genius. The finest paintings generally have likeable engaging subjects of substance and pleasing color schematics that often provoke a viewer to reminisce about a meaningful experience or to think creatively.
Excellent condition, a proper signature, historical relevance, pristine exhibition, and provenance records, period references, a professional appraisal, expert authentication, and a period frame are impressive pedigrees that add to an artwork’s credentials, value and, marketability.
A painting’s worth is dependent on whether someone is willing and able to pay a seller’s asking price. It’s not wise to purchase an artwork if it causes financial burden or mental anguish; if data regarding it cannot be substantiated (in writing); or it does not meet with complete approval.
Many art buyers recklessly purchase lesser or poorly painted pictures because they are more impressed with famous artists’ signatures than they are with quality, content, and condition. Unfortunately, the market is filled with fake signature facsimiles and the untrained end up with far too many counterfeits.
The Bill of Sale: Shrewd art buyers pay for items by check or wire transfers and they attain a legitimate Bill of Sale that fully describes each item they purchase. A Bill of Sale should list an artist’s name and dates, the title, size, signature placement, and facsimile, condition, provenance, references, exhibition history, price, sales tax, conditions of the sale, a warranty of authenticity and clear title, and the seller’s signature. If sales tax is exempt, the Bill of Sale should state why.
If someone buys a signed painting and it is a forgery, huge amounts of money can be lost. To protect investments, make certain a Bill of Sale states signature information in a legally binding manner.
A Bill of Sale should declare exactly how a painting is signed. For instance, when purchasing an oil on canvas that is signed in the lower right "Childe Hassam," the Bill of Sale should state, “The canvas is signed 'Childe Hassam'in the lower right by Childe Hassam (American, 1859-1935).” If a Bill of Sale simply states, “The canvas is signed in the lower right 'Childe Hassam,'” it means anyone could have signed the painting. If the seller refuses to write “'by' Childe Hassam (American, 1859-1935)” on a Bill of Sale, do not purchase the painting, because if the painting or the signature is counterfeit, a buyer may have no legal recourse. An artist’s dates should be included after the artist’s name, so the artist’s true identity is established.
Year ago, a Rhode Island dealer sold a Nebraska collector a painting signed in the lower right "Winslow Homer." The collector thought he was buying an authentic canvas by the world-renowned Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910) but prominent Homer authenticator Lloyd Goodrich refused to verify the piece and said it was a blatant forgery.
After learning of Goodrich’s negative judgment, the collector tried unsuccessfully to get his money back from the dealer. The collector took the matter to court and lost the case because the dealer convinced the court he had done nothing wrong.
The Rhode Island dealer confessed, “I told him [the collector] the painting was signed in the lower right. I didn’t tell him it was signed by Homer!”
If the collector had insisted the painting’s Bill of Sale state the work was signed in the lower right by Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910), there would have been no contest.
No collector-investor should blindly trust a dealer’s assertions regarding signatures that “glow” under a black light. In the 1980s a prominent New York gallery sold several pictures that were painted by American impressionist Theodore Robinson (1852-1896). The artist’s heirs claim the dealer stole the Robinson paintings from the artist’s estate, signed them, tripled asking prices, and sold the paintings as canvases with Robinson’s authentic signature.
The estate attempted to sue the dealer several times, but his lack of cooperation with courts has outlasted the statutory time frame and the paintings with fake signatures go uncontested. Most statutory laws last only four years on the sale of art and antiques. After 4 years have passed there is no recourse.
It is essential to understand the character of the people from whom a purchase is made so that if a purchase is misrepresented it can be returned and money will be refunded in full without too much of a hassle.
Patricia Jobe Pierce is a freelance writer, art historian, art dealer-consultant, certified AAA appraiser, public speaker, photographer and American art authenticator for museums, auction houses and collectors. She graduated from Boston University with a BFA in 1965, is owner and director of Pierce Galleries, Inc. in Nantucket and Hingham, Mass., and is author of many works, including, "Art Collecting & Investing: The Inner Workings and the Underbelly of the Art World." For more of her submissions, Click Here Now.
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