How To Know Your Provenance Document is Legitimate

Artwork Archive | February 26, 2016 (Updated April 12, 2021)

How to Know Provenance is Legitimate

It’s arguable that your provenance documents are more important than your artwork.

With art fraud and art crime permeating the industry, authenticity is the lifeline of your collection. Experts encourage collectors to always review the provenance documents before bidding on or purchasing any work. There are particular aspects you will find within the documents to confirm their legitimacy.

Here are a few details and conditions you want provenance documents to include:

1. A Description of the Work

Provenance documents must include a detailed description of the artwork. Starting with dimensions, you want to confirm the materials used, the type of work, and what it looks like. This ties your document back to your piece, unquestionably. It will also include the title, date created, and the artist.

If the signature on a painting says “Vincent Van Gogh,” it does not prove the creator is actually Vincent Van Gogh. You want a signed, certified document outlining the details of the piece.

Provenance documents without these details are not considered authentication.

2. A Legible, Identifiable Signature

The authority that is certifying the document must sign legibly, so you can trace their identity. The best case scenario, this person is still living and can confirm that legitimacy of the document. If not, you can at least prove this person existed.

Generally, signatures on provenance documents also include the contact information and the certifications or qualifications of the expert. If the document is a sales receipt, then the gallery involved will be the authority to contact to verify the purchase.

3. An Original Copy

Photocopies or PDFs do not serve as provenance documents. Although you can store digital copies in your Artwork Archive account in case of emergency, original documents are the best option when possible. Of course, some documents are digitally printed these days, but what’s important is an inked signature.

4. A List of Previous, Verifiable Owners

Verifying the work’s history is a great way to confirm that your documentation is accurate. If the listed owner’s history has loopholes, that’s a good indication there is something fishy going on. Most artwork will have each owner and the years the owner had the work in possession listed. With this information you can confirm these people existed during that time, and if they are still alive you can ask them about the work. If you speak with a previous owner you can also verify the galleries that used to have the work or from where the collector bought the work.

Practice Due Diligence When Art Buying

Especially with antiques and art created by artists that have passed, this process is especially pertinent. Do your due diligence before you purchase the artwork to confirm that your provenance documents are legitimate. If you neglect these details and discover, after the fact, that the provenance is fallacious, you may cost yourself legal fees and a boat load of stress. Let this checklist be your provenance guide when buying art.

Get more tips about acquiring pieces of art, collecting documents for provenance, and caring for your art collection in our e-guide, Essential Guide to Collecting Art.

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