- Art Authentication
© 2003 ICAI, Inc.
What is authentic?
Something is authentic when the preponderance of knowledgeable people accepts
it as such. There are individuals and institutions that confirm an imprimatur
on works of art. A work exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art has
few questions asked regarding its authenticity. This is a result of reputation
and expectation built primarily on scholarship and research. However, many
museums do not have the resources or corporate culture to actively pursue
any problems of authenticity. This leads to a cycle of regular controversy
and relegation of items to the basement of many institutions. This type
of reaction rather than a candid and open discussion does not solve the
fundamental issues of what is authentic and how we should approach this
Many individuals have been confirmed as de facto authorities
- legal edict as is the case in France where the government often confirms
heirs or designates as the legal authenticators of recently deceased artists.
This has created many untenable and often anti-academic situations where
substantially unqualified people with far too much of a personal stake
in the outcome are determining the authenticity of works.
- academic default - e.g. a graduate student in art history has completed
a thesis on an artist that includes or attempts a catalogue raisonneé.
The most recently published work will generally vault the person to the
top of the preferred list of experts, at least in the eyes of the academic
- operational default - Auction houses have their particular internal
and external experts who have similar standards but a considerably different
approach to authentication. The primary goal in these cases is to minimize
research costs and to present works that will not cause a litigation problem
if sold as...
- self-proclamation and the "cult of the personality" - There
are many people who are adept at self-promotion. Although there is nothing
intrinsically wrong with this, it is often difficult to sort out a sound
educated opinion from spin.
should be prepared to discuss and provide in writing the bases for their
opinions - not simply their opinions!
These expectations have led, in some cases, to a type of "cult of the
The Relative Importance
When asked by clients the most important factors in approaching an authentication
our answer is usually - Provenance, provenance, provenance, and stylistic
analysis, then technical/scientific analyses. This advice is more a reflection
of the actual situation than what would be ideal in an objective assessment.
Most people do not do
sufficient work to establish as firm a provenance as possible and thereby
make the entire task more difficult. Provenance information is not
hearsay; it must be verifiable through reputable sources and references
or by direct testimony of relevant owners or agents. Written, signed and
dated documents are desirable. Vague recollections and inaccurate information
often have a strong negative impact on credibility.
If a verifiable
provenance is established then further analysis is usually unnecessary.
is the 'procedure' for authentication?
As indicated in the discussion of provenance doing everything reasonable
(if not possible) on provenance is the first step in any authentication.
Stylistic or aesthetic
assessment is always important in determining the authorship of a work and
this must be done by persons who have actually seen a good number of known
works of the target period or artist. Comparison of photographs, although
a very common practice, is woefully inadequate and has led to considerable
The next step is a full
"conservation and technology assessment". This is something that
is rarely if ever done by art historians/curators who do not have the training
to perform such an examination. However, it is the most valuable tool in
determining the materials history of a work and often results in explicit
and implicit dating information.
What is a "Conservation
& Technology Assessment"?
"Technological" analyses are very useful for determining the relative
ages of works of art. These analyses are really a set of complex observations
regarding the materials and technology of a work of art (physical characteristics).
A thorough and proper
conservation condition report is essential to:
- fix the present
state of a work of art in time
- determine the history
- determine the proportion
of original materials to alterations
- detect any potential
- detect datable physical
characteristics of components or technologies
- assess overall artist's
technique, its variability and any potentially unique characteristics
- determine the appropriateness
of rheology (crack structure) to the expected age and treatment of materials
- determine which
chemical or physical analyses may be necessary or capable of assisting
the authentication (analyses are routinely performed that do not answer
any critical questions and often provide confusing if not contradictory
In recent years television
programs featuring forensic detective work and sensational cases such as
the Shroud of Turin have given the lay public the impression that questions
of authenticity can be easily resolved using scientific methods. Nothing
is farther from the truth. Science does indeed aid in answering relevant
questions but those questions are extremely limited and only valuable when
asked by extraordinarily experienced persons.
Procedure 1 -
Preliminary Inspection / Preexamination
Before any decision to proceed with the full range of research and examination
required to support authentication it is necessary to perform a preliminary
examination of the work of art.
THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE
FOR THE ACTUAL OBJECT! - However,
since considerable expense and some physical risk is involved in transporting
art, a pre-screening of potential works not available for direct inspection
will be done at a minimum cost of US$250.00 per piece.
Although this is nominally the same method as used by auction houses and
dealers, ICAI, Inc., requires considerably higher quality photography in
order to make even a cursory technical pre-assessment. In general,
working with photos is highly inadequate. Therefore, the following
photo and other specifications must be met:
After examination of the
photos and accompanying documentation a written statement of the advisability
to proceed will be forwarded.
- 35mm color slides
and / or 4" x 6" color prints
- color matched to film color temperature
- color temperature must be specified
- 45E normal incidence or diffuse light - recto & verso raking light
(low angle 3-5E) to accentuate all surface anomalies - recto verso optional)
- dating - all photos
must be dated either by hand (on the slide mount or back of the print)
or with a dating camera back
- internal color scale
and measurement scale are optional but desirable
- actual unframed
dimensions of the work
- any and all existing
- a written statement
of why the authentication work is being requested
- an unequivocal statement
that the person making the request is the owner or authorized agent and
that, to the best of their knowledge, the art work is not listed as stolen.
may be used but only after details have been agreed upon by ICAI, Inc.,
Procedure 2 -
To proceed with a complete examination or work-up, the client must sign
an agreement that includes acceptance of the "Terms & Conditions
for Authentication Services".
The works of art must
be formally received by ICAI, Inc. along with the required deposit.
It is understood that
a minimum of 2 months will be required to complete
any work and that the times may be considerably longer depending upon the
degree of research necessary, prior commitments and present staff assignments.
An association of top experts attached to various institutions does the
work. Their time is often committed months in advance so, if specific analyses
are required, individual completion estimates will be made.
All expenditures in
excess of the US$1,000.00 minimum will be separately
authorized by the owner/agent. A written proposal will generally be the
means by which this is communicated.
Procedure 3 -
The end result of any examination is a complete report including recommendations
to proceed. There are only four possible outcomes of any authentication
activity and these are ranked below from the easiest to the most difficult:
WORK IS A "FAKE" - this terminology is used quite
specifically to define a circumstance where there has been a deliberate
attempt to mislead individuals or the public into believing a work of art
is of a particular era or by the hand of a particular artist. Generally,
these deceptions are relatively easy to spot. The reason for this is that
there are many technique and material variables that have to be executed
absolutely correctly for a work to be considered genuine and most counterfeiters
only control or are aware of a few of these. However, some fakes are actually
excellent works in and of themselves.
WORK IS A "COPY" - this refers to works that are
deliberate copies of works. There is little or no need to attribute the
work to a particular hand. A good example of this is the systematic copying
of Chinese ceramics and scrolls by generations of artisans as an apprenticeship
practice and as a means of paying tribute to past masters. There was originally
no intent to deceive or mislead a potential owner or buyer. There may well
be subsequent attempts to pass the objects off as genuine. It must also
be remembered that western studio practice in painting and sculpture (basically
until the 20th century) included the systematic copying of masterworks by
apprentices and students.
WORK IS "AUTHENTIC" - the work of art is by a particular
artist or from a specific region or historical period. This determination
should almost invariably be accompanied by art historical analysis, technical/scientific
analyses and a strong provenance. Even with excellent scholarship, analysis
and provenance, claims of authenticity are often overstated -- 100% surety
in most endeavors is not possible.
WORK IS "FROM A PARTICULAR SCHOOL OR PERIOD BUT FROM A LESSER KNOWN
OR UNKNOWN ARTIST" - this is the most difficult category
and, in many cases, it is not logically possible (given the limitations
of scholarship and analytical techniques) to determine with high degree
of specificity and confidence1,
the exact authorship.
The final report will
- all technical findings
including those that reflective negatively on authenticity
- a determination
of the present level of confidence of the attribution
- if the confidence
of attribution is relatively low, recommendations for further work or
steps to be taken will be made.
Should I have conservation
work done during the authentication process?
The general answer to this question is no since there
may be some loss of historically significant information. Also, in some
circles, conservation intervention may be questioned as an attempt to hide
Having given the general rule there are notable exceptions. Conservation
work may be required to:
- Prevent losses and
damages from inherent or ongoing problems such as flaking, etc.
- Permit an unbiased
viewing of the painting in the event that the aesthetic values are so
imbalanced by improper previous conservation/restoration, varnish deterioration
or other factors that showing the painting to a selected expert, dealer
or committee may indeed lead to its summary dismissal.
Choosing a Conservator
The choice of a conservator should never be made lightly. References should
be requested and conservators should, at minimum, acknowledge and abide
by the "Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice" published by
the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Cultural Works (AIC).
Conservation versus Restoration
There is a large difference between conservation & restoration.
There are many differing points of view on this issue. Some of this divergence
is due to the development of degree programs in conservation over the last
50 years. Prior to that time restorers (by definition) were apprentices
in art studios or the artists themselves.
It is very clear from
the development of modern conservation (beginning in World War II) that
considerations of environment and preventive conservation were critical.
It is also important to realize that the approaches and technologies inherent
to conservation are often very different from those used and accepted by
artists. That is indeed why conservation degree programs have flourished
and why it is unwise for artists to be intimately involved with conservation.
Will Conservation Affect the Value of My Art Work?
Unfortunately the answer is in two parts - YES & NO.
Improper, unprofessional and unjustified conservation/restoration will have
a profoundly negative effect on final value.
NO - Good
conservation does not negatively affect the value of art works. Although
many conservators might disagree, it is fair to state that conservation
cannot increase the intrinsic value of a work of art. However, there is
uniform agreement in both the private and museum conservation communities
that ethical and high quality conservation are essential to the maintenance
of the aesthetic, historic and monetary value of works of art.
© 2003 ICAI, Inc. - Duane R. Chartier
this context confidence can and should be a statistical or quasi-statistical
determination. The art world has generally rejected statistical approaches
to the handling of data and to modeling the outcomes of experiments. Authentication,
in practice and in theory, is not above statistical and logical considerations
applied in scientific and technical fields. The reasons that such methods
and views have not been adopted are more associated with training, academic
politics and professional insecurities rather than the appropriateness of
the techniques to the tasks at hand