Focusing in on a Painting's Pedigree
in on a Painting's Pedigree
(Article written by Joseph James Patti
for publication in The Real Paper, Pensacola, Florida)
Just picture it. Itís
Saturday afternoon and youíre meandering the aisles of a
local antique shop brimming with turn-of-the-century
furniture and vintage clothing. Then, you spy it. Being the
rococo desk and dusty box of 50s glassware. The perfect
painting for your living room. Maybe itís the color/ Maybe
the subject or style grabs your eye. Whatever it is, you
think it may be old. But youíre not sure. What do you do?
You follow the
lead of art experts and first identify whether itís an
original painting Ė an oil, pastel or watercolor (the three
primary mediums) Ė or a reproduction such as an etching,
engraving, lithograph or print. Identification is
important since original painting generally have a higher
value than a reproduction.
The price tag
may provide pertinent information including the medium,
artist name, price and provenance. Provenance is the
recorded or known history of a painting, such as its
ownership record, title, receipts, galleries and museums of
display or past purchases. But donít rely entirely on what
others say about the painting. Use your own judgment.
Is there glass
over the painting? Glass indicates it is more likely a
watercolor, pastel or reproduction. Ninety-five percent of
the time oil paintings do not have glass covering.
misled by seemingly old or ornate frames either since most
older paintings are not in their original frames. Since the
item may be priced partially based on the frame, this is not
a good indicators of the paintingís age or value.
problem experienced by novice art buys is telling the
difference between a watercolor painting and a production.
On first glance, it is easy to confuse two since prints look
like watercolors. Now is the time pull out your trusty
little magnifying glass. Donít have one? If youíre
planning on hitting the antique art trail, you need to
invest $5.00 in this invaluable tool. Every first-rate
antique art aficionado carries one. Use the magnifying
glass to check the work up close for tiny dots. Dots mean
the work is a reproduction, not an original.
strokes on the painting are good indicators that itís
original, you need to proceed with caution. Some older
prints have been altered with brush strokes to make them
appear as original oil paintings. Also, sophisticated
computer technology is making it more difficult to identify
an original from a print.
for a signature. Although signatures are important in
pinpointing the time period and artist, donít reject a work
simply because there is no signature. Some of the most
accomplished artists in history did not sign their works.
Some paintings were also done as studies in preparation for
a larger work of art
paintings framed under glass have also been confused for oil
paintings, photos and watercolors. A good indication that a
work is pastel is its chalky texture. Some of the pastel
pigments may even be smeared on or have fallen inside the
glass or frame.
that have not been recently cleaned may also have a yellowed
varnish covering which appears as a natural result of age.
This yellowed tint can be cleaned and as a result,
considerably brighten the painting. A stern warning here:
Do not buy the oil painting and think you can remove the old
varnish yourself. It requires experience and artistic
expertise to remove the top varnish layer without destroying
the paint beneath. An experienced art restorer can clean
and restore yellowed oil paintings at a reasonable cost.
close inspection of an oil painting, you might also be
surprised to see the work is not on canvas but on a wood
panel, paper board or even Masonite. Many antique paintings
including 19th and 20th century oils were painted
on whatever material support was available to the artist.
This does not change the value or quality of the work.
the painting under strong light for signs of cracking on the
paint surface, prior repairs and restorations, and the
quality of its support. All these can help you determine
the age and value.
identifying and valuing antique paintings takes patience,
knowledge and experience. The best way to learn is to get
out and spend a few afternoons visiting a plethora of
And if you
find a painting that captures your soul, be sure to check it
out. Or you can pay a few dollars to an experienced art
dealer for his or her advice. If you are simply captivated
by the work and donít care whether itís an original or
reproduction and the price seems right, then take out your
wallet and take the piece home. Your walls will love it and
your friends will envy your good taste.
remember, good art doesn't have to match you sofa!