Original, print or fake?

Whether a painting, a graphic, a lithograph or a sculpture has a greater value depends primarily on whether it is an original by a well-known artist. But this statement is anything but simple.

As a layman, it is probably only just possible to judge whether a painting was actually painted with color on canvas or printed in a series, or in what general condition it is. In most cases, a signature can also be recognized or there may even be a certificate that provides information about the artist. However, the road to certainty as to whether a painting is a valuable original or unique specimen can, under certain circumstances, be much longer.

The signature – a sure indication of origin?

In the search for the originator of a work, it is obvious to identify the artist’s signature and rely exclusively on it. But is this sufficient? At the very least, signatures are a very complex issue: First of all, there is the problem that they cannot always be found in the work at first glance, because some artists have virtually hidden them in their works. In addition, very few artists have signed their works with their full name, and so many works only bear special artist monograms, abbreviations or symbols.

  • In addition, some artists have changed their signatures, sometimes several times during their career.
  • Therefore, a very good knowledge of the signature catalog is necessary for the determination based on the artist’s signature.
  • And in general, unfortunately, as with the entire work of art, signatures can also be forged.

Expertise of art experts and material experts

Identifying the artist’s signature is a first clue, but what to do if doubts persist? Then all that remains is to consult art experts who can provide clarity either by visual inspection or, in extreme cases, with technical procedures such as X-rays, infrared light and pigment analysis.

In the vast majority of cases, the consultation of an art expert will suffice to establish authenticity. With his trained eye, he can judge whether a work corresponds to the style of the artist in question, can date it, and in the course of this can also determine in which creative phase an artist’s work should be placed.

The greatest possible certainty is promised by all the techniques of material testing, which aim to analyze the materials of which a work is made and compare them with other works by the alleged author or with the typical production methods of the period in question. In the case of paintings, drawings and lithographs, the painting ground already provides meaningful information, because as early as the 14th century, paper mills were already putting their respective watermarks on the sheets of paper. However, these are usually covered by ink or paint and must be made visible, for example, with the help of infrared light.

If colors were used in a work of art, their ingredients can be identified with the help of UV light or X-rays. If even slight injuries to the artwork are accepted, the age and origin of the materials can be determined very precisely on the basis of tiny samples of textile fibers or oil paints. If the analysis results reveal, for example, pigments that do not match the time or geographical region of the artist in question, caution is advised.

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