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  • gerard van weyenbergh

7 steps an art expert should take in the research of authenticity of art

For example, a client in Abu Dhabi consults me to make research on a Picasso he discovered in his attic.

Step 1:

First, I ask the customer to send very high-quality photos front and back of the artwork. If there are labels, notations on the frame or the stretcher, accidents to the painting, we will request photos of this. I analyze these photos and decide if we are in the presence of a “potential” real Picasso or not. If elements show that Picasso could not have made the painting, we let the owner know and explain why we will not research authenticity.

Step 2:

I ask the owner to give me an explanation on how he came in possession of the artwork. This is called provenance. I need to receive a complete verifiable history of the painting with as much details as possible. If there is only little provenance, I will explain to the customer that it will be difficult to obtain an authentication but not impossible. I will try, if we have an agreement on my future proposal to make the research, to find traces of the painting in galleries, museums etc. At this step, I will ask to give me close up photos of details of the painting, signature, brushstrokes, important details of the painting, a close up of the canvas itself, etc. Until this point, there is no charge for the spent time.

Step 3: If all these elements show the possibility of an authentic painting by Picasso, I will mention that I need to see the painting or in Abu Dhabi, or in Los Angeles, or in any location convenient for both of us. At this point, we will convene on a first proposal to analyze the painting itself, including plane fair, accommodation, and a flat fee for the time to spend.

Step 4: Painting is analyzed on site.

Step 5:

If the painting still looks like a potential authentic Picasso, I will propose the customer to start a research file for authentication. I will submit a second proposal to make this research file. The painting will remain at all times in the hands of the owner. Often both proposals, mentioned in step3 and 4, are made in one and only proposal.

Step 6:

The file is submitted to the sole recognized universal authenticator, in this case to the Picasso Administration in Paris. Each painter has his own sole recognized universal authenticator.

Some authenticators, foundations, or committees, may request - a fee to process the file of the research to have the painting physically analyzed

Like the “Comite Chagall” some committees have only two sessions a year to analyze the files. For this reason, a research of authentication will take from 3-4 months up to 6-7 months and sometimes much longer. The Getty museum needed 10 years to obtain the authentication of a painting made by Raphael, owned by a British gentleman. Finally they could not buy the painting because the UK government refuses the export of the painting to the USA.

Step 7:

The authenticator, the committees, the foundation will give or a certificate of authenticity or a confirmation that the painting will be included in the next “catalogue raisonne” for the artist.

As explained in my last post about the fakes and the internet experts, experts today are reluctant to give certificates of authenticity, because an unhappy owner can sue them if the result of the request is negative. To avoid that problem, the sole recognized authenticator will publish a “catalogue raisonne” of the works by the artist. This catalog will include all the works with their photo usually in black and white, with details of the provenance, the sizes, the date and location of creation, title.

If a certificate of authenticity is accepted it will include:

- a photo of the painting - the details of the painting : size, annotations, signature, labels, period painting was made - the date the certificate was made

- the signature of the expert, with his complete detail of address

- the professional stamp of the expert.

- and usually but not always, a reference number to the archives of the expert.

Here an example of a fake certificate of authenticity :

It looks real, but 1 major element is missing: the photo, besides gross anomalies in the descriptions and stamps.

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