One of our readers, G. P., sent me the following questions: What is the difference, in terms of value, of a work that is signed and a work that has been attributed to a painter? Does the reputation of the expert have some influence on this? How to choose the right expert?
These are good questions and while I have touched on them in past issues, now might be a good time to revisit them. I will jump in with: How to choose the right expert? In today’s market, there are many dealers who hold themselves out as ‘experts’ on a particular artist or period. It is great PR for someone to claim that they are an expert on an artist, or period … it not only makes them feel important, but creates a feeling of confidence in potential clients. What you need to do is pay less attention to what the individual claims and more to what the art world has to say. Do a little research, the Internet is a great place to start, and try to determine if they are truly an expert.
It is advisable to see if a catalogue raisonné has been published, or is currently underway, for the artist in question. If so, try to contact the author/authors to solicit their opinion on the level of expertise the dealer may have. You will also want to determine if the author/authors are considered, by people in the art world, to be truly knowledgeable on the artist. Is their opinion solicited before works are sold on the public market? Do they provide letters of authenticity or photo-certificates? Have they written scholarly articles on the particular artist or period? Is their opinion currently considered the last word on the subject? Have they seen the work you are considering?
During your research you will find instances where more than one individual is considered an expert on a particular artist … two that immediately come to mind are Courbet and Cortès. Currently there are two competing research projects underway concerning the works of Courbet and I have seen instances where the two experts disagree on a work. If that is the case, my advice would be to find another work to buy … who needs any hassles in the future. With Cortes, there are a number of experts; two that have written books, Klein and Verdier, as well as a number of dealers who specialize in his work. While we do not publicly hold ourselves out as an ‘expert’ on Cortès, we are constantly being asked for our opinion on works by other dealers and auction rooms. So according to some people, we are ‘experts’ on Cortès’s work. In instances where there are a number of experts, you want to be sure that at least one of those ‘experts’ have seen the work and deemed it authentic. You also want to be sure that the gallery you are purchasing the work from, gives you a lifetime authenticity guarantee in writing.
In reality, most people are not going to go to these lengths, so my best advice is to work with galleries/dealers that have been buying and selling art from your period of interest for a long time. It takes years of looking at good and bad paintings to get a feeling for the work; and those individuals who have been buying and selling paintings for decades are more likely to know the right ones from the wrong ones. This is not a guarantee, but the more one sees, the better their eyes become at spotting something that just does not look right. You also want to make sure that the galleries you deal with do their due diligence … even if they are considered experts in the period they specialize in. While we are considered by many people in the art world to be experts in 19th century paintings we always contact the current experts for artists like Bouguereau, Corot, etc. to make sure the paintings we are offering are either illustrated in the catalogue raisonné or will be included in an upcoming supplement.
It is important to remember that even if you find a knowledgeable dealer, you are not assured of being offered a good quality painting by an artist … it just means that your chances of buying an authentic painting are better. A real painting and a good quality painting are two entirely different things.
The next question is: What is the difference, in terms of value, of a work that is signed and a work that has been attributed to a painter? I am going to rephrase this question for the purpose of this article and say … what is the difference in value between a signed and unsigned painting by an artist? Initially, it is important to know if the artist normally signed his works. If so, and you have your choice between two similar works (one signed and one unsigned) I would recommend buying the signed one … there will be less issues to deal with when you decide to resell it.
Of course, there are instances when an artist who normally signed their paintings did not sign a work. I know … why? Sometimes these works were not for sale while the artist was alive, remaining in their studio or personal collection; or the buyer requested that a signature not be added; or the artist just forgot to sign it (yes that does happen). Any unsigned works that were sold during the artist’s lifetime will always remain unsigned. The unsigned works that were part of an artist’s estate may have the benefit of an ‘estate stamp’. After an artist’s death a stamp with the artist’s signature may have been created (known as an Estate Stamp). The individuals handling the estate would then stamp all of the works. As long as the estate was handled professionally, there should be no issues with these works and their values should be comparable to those works which have the artist’s signature on them. Rosa Bonheur is a good case in point. After her death a large ‘studio’ sale took place and all the unsigned works were estate stamped. In addition, a rather lavishly illustrated catalogue was produced … making it much easier to determine if a specific work was part of the studio sale. Over the years, many of her ‘stamped’ works have reappeared on the market and they continue to bring strong prices.
Then there were artists who rarely signed their works. In these cases, authenticity is based on expert opinion and/or detailed documentation. One of the crucial elements in determining the work’s authenticity, other than its quality, is provenance (chain of ownership). The more complete the provenance, the easier it is to track the painting’s history … at times, leading you right back to the artist and/or their dealer. Generally, unsigned works are more frequently seen in the Old Master period and that is why attributions to specific artists change over time … as more scholarly research is conducted and more sophisticated scientific tests can be performed, the more accurate current scholars can be in determining which artist painted a specific work.
Keep in mind that many Old Master paintings are unsigned and the important documented works can sell for millions of dollars. Even those 19th century paintings that may not have a signature can command premium prices if the art world believes the work to be authentic … we recently saw this when an unsigned work by Antonio Jacobsen came on the market a few months ago. While rare, there were times that Jacobsen did not sign a work, and this one not only had all the right elements, but all the current experts agreed that the work was right … it sold for a record price --$281,000!
Finally, does the reputation of the expert have some influence on this? Yes. Those experts who are not only knowledgeable, but viewed as impartial when it comes to their opinion are held in the highest regard. If they say a work is by the artist in question, then the art world has little doubt about the work’s authenticity … many times, their stamp of approval is all the buyer and seller need. However, those ‘experts’ who are not well respected, or even acknowledged as the ‘true’ expert, will still leave the unsigned works in limbo … and the price will reflect this continued uncertainty.
Bouguereau at the Philbrook
In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau and His American Students is a landmark exhibition, organized by The Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma (September 17 – December 31, 2006). It is the first ever to focus on larger-than-life personality William Bouguereau and his American students and will tour nationally.
His excellent reputation in both France and America during the second half of the nineteenth century attracted thousands of aspiring artists to Bouguereau's studio, including more than 200 American artists.
This exhibit brings together 55 paintings, drawings and prints by Bouguereau and several of his prominent American students, including Cecilia Beaux, Eanger Irving Couse, Elizabeth Gardner, and Robert Henri.
The exhibit is curated by James F. Peck, Ruth G. Hardman Curator of European and American Art. A lush, 211 page, fully illustrated color catalogue, which includes critical essays by Bouguereau expert and scholar Damien Bartoli; leading French academic art scholar Eric Zafran; and Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau specialist Charles Pearo, will accompany the exhibition. All catalogue entries, along with an essay detailing the artistic relationship between Eanger Irving Couse and Bouguereau, will be authored by exhibition curator James Peck. The book will retail for $50.00 (hardcover) and $39.95 (softcover).
Holly Hope Banks
We are pleased to announce that Rehs Contemporary Galleries will now be representing the still life paintings of Holly Hope Banks. Holly, wife of the contemporary Realist artist Allan Banks, is a well respected and accomplished artist working in the Realist style. I think you will all enjoy seeing the paintings and biography we have added to the web site this month. Below is a direct link to the images: