- Conduct due diligence. Always ask questions and conduct research to find out about the work of art’s history, as well as exhibition and literature citations prior to purchase. Ideally, a buyer should be able to trace the history of the painting all the way back to the artist’s studio. Does it appear in exhibition catalogs, books or monographs? Speak with the seller, other experts and scholars on the artist, and a well-respected independent art advisor. If it is discovered that the work passed through the hands of collectors or dealers with histories of handling fake art, or if any scholars raise concerns about the formal qualities of the work not aligning with the artist’s oeuvre, the buyer should take these discoveries very seriously.
- Seek out documentation. If the artist has a catalog raisonné, ensure the work is included. Ask the seller for a certificate of authenticity. If the seller does not have one, try to obtain one. Depending on the artist, certificates of authenticity may be issued by the artist’s foundation, by a surviving family member or from another expert on the artist. Unfortunately, for many artists, it is not possible to obtain a certificate of authenticity. In such a case, you may want to consider forensic testing. As was the scenario in the Frans Hals, case, forensic testing was the method that was able to definitively prove inauthenticity.
- Obtain independent advice. Seek advice from an expert on the artist who is not the individual or entity selling the painting. Auction houses and art dealers cannot authenticate art, and they are, after all, in the business of selling. Always obtain an independent opinion from a scholar or from a qualified and independent art advisor who is knowledgeable about the artist in question and who has no financial interest in the sale of the work of art.
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