All about art authenticity, the seven steps in an authentication process.
Updated: Jul 9
For example, a client in Abu Dhabi consults me to research a Picasso he discovered in his attic.
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.
I ask the owner to give me an explanation of how he came in possession of the artwork. This phase is called provenance. I need to receive a complete, verifiable history of the painting with as many details as possible. If there is only little provenance, I will explain to the customer that it will be challenging to obtain an authentication but not impossible. I will try if we have an agreement on my future proposal to 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 picture, signature, brushstrokes, essential information 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 art or in Abu Dhabi, or Los Angeles, or any location convenient for both of us. At this point, we will convene on a first proposal to analyze the painting itself, including plane fare, accommodation, and a flat fee for the time to spend.
Step 4: Painting is analyzed on-site. (next chapter will clarify the process )
If the painting still looks like a potential authentic Picasso, I will propose the customer to start a research file for authentication and 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 only proposal.
The file is submitted to the solely 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
Some committees, like the “Comite Chagall,” have only two sessions a year where they investigate the submitted files. For this reason, research of authentication will take from 3-4 months up to 6-7 months and sometimes much longer. The Getty museum needed ten years to obtain the authentication of a painting made by Raphael, owned by a British gentleman. Finally, they could not buy the art because the UK government denied the export of the Raphael painting to the USA.
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.
About the fakes and the internet experts ( chapter to come), 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 solely 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.
A certificate of authenticity will include:
- a photo of the painting - the details of the artwork: size, annotations, signature, labels, the period painting was created.
- the date of the certificate.
- the name of the expert, with his signature, and his complete detailed 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 one major element is missing: the photo, besides gross anomalies in the descriptions and stamps.