It doesn't pay to buy artwork on impulse.

It's worth the time to document your big purchases like fine art and collectibles even if you don’t intend to sell your pieces. Collecting key records at the time of the transaction will save you time and headache during financial and estate planning, insurance evaluations, IRS audits, donations and conservation efforts.

Not only will you preserve the object’s history, you’ll also be able to support the object’s authenticity and passage of clear-title if it is ever called into question. Plus, tax season is around the corner; don't be left without key documents!

Whether you’re acquiring an object through a dealer, gallery, art advisor or private sale, these are the documents to consider requesting from the seller at the time of your purchase.

Provenance Report

When making an art or other collectible purchase, a provenance report should be in hand and include any past transactions and exhibition history.

What else should be included in the provenance report? Look for names of people, companies, auction houses, dealers, or galleries that might have taken part in the transaction of the object. The dates and locations of each transaction are also important.

Aside from facts regarding the object's past, the report can also include stories and hearsay regarding history. Even if there are no documents to support the story, it can be a starting point for further research.

Exhibition history, although it does not include transactional information, will include the whereabouts of the object at a specific point in time like a museum of gallery exhibitions. If the object was in a public exhibition at a museum, chances are good that it was also published in an exhibition catalogue, which can be found via WorldCat. An exhibition at a gallery may have resulted in a sale of the object. Galleries sometimes publish exhibition catalogues where the object may be listed.

Some provenance reports are incomplete, may only highlight major collections that the object was included in or list "private collection". A provenance report should always be further investigated, even if it is coming from a major auction house or dealer. For more on provenance research, refer to Artwork Archive's article "Getting Started With Provenance Research".

Bills of Sale

Original documents like bills of sale are key to revealing past transactional information, and it's instrumental that you get a bill of sale for your purchase. 

Getting a past bill of sale can be difficult, but a request can be made for a redacted one, meaning any sensitive information can be edited into one document.

Details from past sales that appear to be insignificant can be meaningful such as where the art was last purchased from or the date of the last transaction. This type of information that is listed in secondary sources is not evidence of a transaction.


Supporting literature includes lists of articles, exhibition catalogues, catalogue raisonné listings and any sources that mention of the object. Copies of the articles and literature sources where the object is mentioned are worth requesting.

Condition Report

A recent condition should be completed by a conservator and include the type of object, date of examination, dimensions, description, condition, evidence of previous repairs, corrosion, stretcher and frame condition, fragile or damaged surfaces and any loose or missing parts.


Your art purchase should be accompanied by a recent appraisal report that is USPAP compliant (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice). A USPAP certified appraiser can be found via any of the appraisal organizations such as Appraisers Association of America, International Society of Appraisers or American Society of Appraisers. Major auction houses and private appraisal companies can also do appraisals.

Art loss check

A document showing that an art loss check was run will provide proof of due diligence to reveal if the object was registered as stolen or lost. There are several companies that provide these services including Art Recovery International.


Make sure you receive high-quality images of the front and back of the purchased object. The images should include any signatures, inscriptions or labels, which can all provide information on the object's past whereabouts and act as a lens into the object's authenticity.

Certificate of Authenticity

A certificate of authenticity can be useful documentation but should not be considered evidence of the object's authenticity since the authenticity review is based on opinion, not fact.

Save the data to Artwork Archive

Once all of the object's documentation is collected, the data and forms can be stored in Artwork Archive's online database for easy collection management.

Sign up for an Artwork Archive account today to ensure that you don't lose these critical documents.