Tags: Authenticate | Artist | Signatures | forgery

Authenticate Artist Signatures Prior to Purchase

Thursday, 26 February 2015 10:50 AM Current | Bio | Archive

A painting, sculpture, or collectible signed by its creator is more valuable than an item without a bona fide signature.
If an artist’s signature looks as if it floats over a painting’s surface or appears as if it “pops out” as a fluorescent purple, green-purple, black-purple, or hazy white color under the scrutiny of a black light (UV-A light), or if a signature is affixed with a different medium (pen on top of gouache or acrylic over oil), question its authenticity and seek the written opinions of independent experts and appraisers before making a purchase.
If a painting with a counterfeit signature comes with a Bill of Sale that reads “signed by” a certain artist, a buyer probably will be able to retrieve its cost by returning the painting with the written opinions of several experts within a four-year period of the sale. Most warranties run out after four years. If a Bill of Sale merely states something is “signed,” it implies it could be signed by anyone and there probably is no legal recourse.
Forged signatures in watercolor, pastel, gouache, conté, crayon, charcoal, and pencil are difficult to detect because they do not fluoresce under the glare of a black light.
If a signature looks as if someone tried too hard to write it or it appears to be too stiff, awkward or incompatible with a painting, have it analyzed by experts.
Many painters hide signatures in waves, on tree trunks, on envelopes (and elsewhere) so that their name does not detract from the artistic image. American painters Samuel Griggs, Thomas Cole, Alvin Fisher, Albert Insley, W.S. Barrett, Fitz Hugh Lane, and many trompe-l’oeil painters signed work in tiny letters in some obscure spot on a canvas. Search paintings thoroughly before deciding they are unsigned.
If a painting is signed with a monogram, ornamental design, or initials, and it is not known who painted it, a good reference is Peter Hasting Falk’s Dictionary of Signatures and Monograms of American Artists, ISBN #0932087-04-3 that sells for $115.00 (CT: Sound View Press, 1988).
If a painting’s signature appears fluorescent under the scrutiny of an ultravioletlight, bring the canvas to art experts (other than the seller) to determine whether the signature is valid or counterfeit.
A forged signature does not necessarily mean the painting itself is a phony. If an authentic painting by Theodore Robinson is unsigned and a forger adds a signature facsimile, then the signature is a forgery but the painting remains authentic. Needless to say, a fake signature does not enhance a painting or its value. When a fake signature is placed on a counterfeit painting, it is close to worthless.
A black light usually exposes in-paint (paint added to an original painting). However, many painters including John Joseph Enneking (1841-1916), Jane Peterson (1876-1965), Ralph Blakelock (1847-1919), and Bernard Corey (1914-2000) commonly signed paintings years after they completed them. Thus, their authentic signatures often fluoresce in the rays of a black light.
If a painting has an estate stampsignature, it generally means an artist’s heirs or representatives used a stamp posthumously to “sign” a facsimile of the artist’s original signature to an unfinished or unsigned work by the artist.
Unauthorized people (and some heirs) have been known to duplicate estate stamps and use them to forge or misrepresent artwork created by copyists. Make certain an estate stamp signature was placed on a painting by the artist’s legitimate heirs and it is not a copy or replica of an estate stamped signature. Said works usually come with an estate’s letter of authenticity.
Estate heirs and representatives often take it upon themselves to sign posthumously an artist’s work in the manner of the artist. Oftentimes a statement is placed on the verso of an artwork admitting an estate representative has signed it and dealers and collector-investors often accept that as valid.
However, when estates misrepresent bogus signatures as being that of the artist, it is fraudulent. Artists’ spouses have been known to add signatures to unsigned work of a deceased painter and have claimed the signatures are authentic, thus it is wise to scrutinize carefully estate paintings and to discern in-painted passages.
Try not to jump to the conclusion that pigment is added to a canvas when looking at a painting under the glare of a fluorescent light. It takes years to learn how best “to read” a black light. Certain red and umber pigments that predate 1900 are fluorescent by nature and many people mistakenly misread them as “in-paint” when they are not.
When in doubt, have a leading conservationist examine fluorescent paint to discover if it is original paint or in-paint later applied to a canvas.
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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Forged signatures in watercolor, pastel, gouache, conté, crayon, charcoal, and pencil are difficult to detect because they do not fluoresce under the glare of a black light.
Authenticate, Artist, Signatures, forgery
Thursday, 26 February 2015 10:50 AM
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