Art Historical and Provenance Research

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he process of researching a painting can be divided into three general steps: identification, authentication, and appraisal. Identification should in principle yield the alleged artist’s name, the paint medium, the title, the probable date of work, its condition and provenance. When paintings are well documented or have already undergone art historical assessment, this step can be skipped. Unfortunately, this is not often the case, and at times even a signature is missing. Using a wide variety of sources, a painting can be identified by analyzing the iconography, artist’s technique, materials used and historical context.

Authentication of a painting requires a number of factors to be considered in combination, such as the artist’s signature, brushstroke patterns, analysis of the underpainting, materials used for the underpainting, analysis of the ground layer, dating of pigments, the choice of canvas/panel used, to name a few. Documentation of a painting’s provenance is also important. Each of these factors on their own tell only part of the story. For instance, pigment analysis may prove that a painting was created in the time that it was purported to be (this does not single out the possibility of a recent forgery conducted with old pigments), however, this in itself does not prove that the painting could not have been made by the master’s pupil. Deciding between the attribution to the studio of an artist or to the artist himself is a complicated process where the opinions of academics and a real life comparison of the work of art in question to another original by the same artist help to authenticate the painting.

Once the painting has been authenticated with reasonable certainty, it needs to be appraised. Factors such as condition of the painting, documentation (provenance),  subject and size of a painting will all affect its value. Furthermore, the quality and extent of previous restorations can also have a significant impact. Finally it should be recognized that buyers’ preferences for particular themes and artists change over time and are also geographically dependent. Sofrino takes great care in providing its clients with detailed consultations and appraisals.

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