The documents of the artwork. Six points to be checked before purchasing

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    When purchasing art, either directly from the artist or from the art gallery, it is essential to check the accompanying documents and the more information you have on the work, the lower the risks.

    The works of art are not regulated by public or private registers from which a sort of “historical vision” could be drawn, while we witness the purchase of works, sometimes also of great economic value, without having adequate documentation.

    These works often turn out to be, unfortunately, fakes or wrong attributions, causing serious economic and even legal consequences to buyers by running the risk of a careless purchase or fencing as per the Penal Code (articles 648 e712).

    For this reason, let’s look into six points to be checked before buying a work of art:


    If the artist is selling, verify that he is actually active with his own coherent path between studies carried out, experiences, exhibitions, competitions, auction appearences and moreover get to know if the artist is supported by galleries.

    If the art gallery is selling , check with which artists it works, if it exhibits at fairs, if it organises exhibitions or events on a regular basis, what experience the gallery owner has, while for the purchase of more important works and more thorough collectors the Chamber of Commerce and the financial statements of the gallery are highly raccommended.

    If a private person is selling it is useful to have as much information as possible on the provenance of the work and to aknowledge if the vendor is an art lover or a regular art dealer. It is also good to know if the work comes from a legacy or it is a former purchase. In these cases it is mandatory to request a Declaration of Origin and a copy of the ID of the seller.


    Although there are a wide range of documents issued, for example, by the living artist, heirs, archives, foundations, art historians, gallery owners, the Certificate of Authenticity is still the basic and essential reference document for each collector. It encompasses all the information on the work including photography, dimensions, the medium, the technique used, the signature and other crucial informations. Once obtained this document, it is therefore necessary to verify that all the informations reported match with the features of the artwork. It is recommended to check the dimensions, technique, any publications, exhibitions or other. Finally, take a deep look at the stamps and at the support of the document and make sure that it is contemporary with the date shown and the work itself.


    For the works of high importance the references of the catalogs and of the articles where the work has been published are provided. This information is crucial for a verification of information and for the reliability of authenticity. For new artists, who are not always able to boast editorial publications, it is a good pratice to check the presence and promotion of their artworks on the web and on social media.

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    Tracking the previous sales of an artwork will allow to get more information and security when purchasing it. It may be appropriate to require from formers owners further confirmations on the information received, always respecting the privacy. The same is true for the auction appearences or through art galleries.


    Artworks do not always have a real expertise, more often they are accompanied by an attestation, attribution or certification of the same author. It is therefore essential to verify that these documents are issued by well-known professionals or companies in the sector, bearing in mind that a simple “art critic” can not be compared to a document proving authenticity. Even the appraisals need to be properly examined as they can in fact certify some conditions of the work, but not always the proper authenticity or attribution. However, it could be useful to get back to the authors of the documents and studies to better understand the methods of interpretation or to clarify the documentary or bibliographic sources used.


    The most important works or those that hava appeared in auctions  usually have a “condition report” with all the information concerning the identification and conservation status of the work.

    Having different condition reports can be helpful to track the evolution of the storage condition of the work in its transfers.

    Verifying all this information is complex and sometimes expensive in terms of time and money, but if you do it in a proper way and you seek the support of qualified professionals, all this will prove to be an extremely valuable investment in case of future sale


    Let’s not forget that also the certificates of authenticity and the accompanying documentation might be counterfeited, so check the supporting documentation in a proper way when buying an artwork.


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