Authentication and Evaluation of Paintings


Is the art an original (one-of-a-kind) painting or print or is it a reproduction? [1]

Here are tips on finding out if your art is a one-of-a-kind original by some artist.

make a visual inspection
-- An original watercolor will have a rough surface when looked at from an angle; a reproduction will have a flat and even surface.
-- An original oil painting on canvas mounted on stretcher bars will have a rough and uneven paint edge on the sides of the canvas where the viewer usually does not look. If a side is even it's probably a reproduction.
-- lithographs and other multiples hand-made by the artist (considered originals) usually have an artist's signature and the number of the work out of the series, e.g. 5/15, meaning the fifth work of a series of fifteen in total. The signature and numbers are hand-written by the artist.
-- A reproduction may be mounted on cardboard or another kind of board. Borrow a high power magnifying glass (the kind jewelers use) or a microscope and look at a color picture in a magazine. If the magnification is powerful enough, you will see microscopic colored dots in a pattern. Next, use this same magnifying glass or microscope and focus on the image you are studying. If you see the same type of array of dots in your picture you have a machine-made reproduction.
-- Some reproductions are very well done and may have no dots to see. They can be on canvas or paper on board and even be embossed to duplicate the brush marks of an original painting. A Giclee (ghee-clay) print is a machine-made reproduction of very high quality made by an Iris digital ink jet printer. A Giclee print has extremely small pixels of color, with no perceptible dot pattern, that may equate to resolution of a digital print at 1,800 dots per inch. A Giclee print may be hand signed and may have dabs of paint applied by the artist to enable the print to be sold as an original work of art.
-- machine-made reproductions usually do not have hand-made signatures.
-- machine-made reproductions often have stock identification numbers on the back of the art work.
-- a copyright symbol followed by a date and name of creator is not a sure sign of either a reproduction or an original. Some artists place a copyright symbol and date near their signature on original works. Paintings which are believed to have been created prior to common use of the copyright notice and symbol should be absent the copyright notice. According to About Inc. "Copyright notice was required under the 1976 Copyright Act. This requirement was eliminated when the United States adhered to the Berne Convention, effective March 1, 1989." If a reproduction was made years after the original work was created the copyright symbol and date relate to the reproduction work.
Ask a professional artist in your town to take a look at your painting. Artists often know originals from reproductions.
Take the painting or print to an owner-operated framing shop in your town. Find an owner who is well-respected and who has owned the frame shop for several years. Ask the owner if the work is an original or a reproduction of some type. You can also take the object to a certified art appraiser, auction house or a print curator in a museum.
Look for the artist in Google Image Search to study the artistic style of the artist and to identify web sites covering the artist. The results can be quite comprehensive. For instance a October 2004 search for images concerning Georgia O'Keeffe yielded 4,750 images. If you see an image of your painting you probably have a reproduction.

Dr. Mark Sublette, owner of Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson and Santa Fe, has created a channel of YouTube online videos on topics relating to paintings and Native American baskets, weavings, pottery and carvings. Titles regarding authentication include How to tell if a painting is old or a reproduction and How to identify fake artwork before you buy it.


Return to Authentication and Evaluation of Paintings



1. See our section on Prints and Reproductions


While Traditional Fine Art Organization, Inc (TFAO) does not provide authentication services, the information in this report is provided as a public service and may be of help to readers studying approaches to authentication and evaluation of their works of art.

Links to sources of information outside of our website are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other websites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating online information see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

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