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How can I tell if my work of art is an original?

Knowing how to study and observe the smallest details is key to providing the correct appraisal of a painting. Please find below some information on how to authenticate a painting and, more precisely, how to differentiate it from a copy of the original work of art.

What is a copy?

There are two broad types of painting reproduction:

  • Manual copies that are created by hand, in the style of the original work
  • Mechanical copies that are printed by machines

Painting reproductions are legal as long as they are presented as such.

However, fakes, which are reproduced canvases, presented as originals, are punished by law.

How to recognize a fake painting?

When it comes to mechanical reproduction, it is usually easy to identify authenticity. They are often manufactured in assembly-lines, via a conventional printing process, and often have a glossy coating that will give a shiny appearance to simulate the realism of the painting. But in the appraisal of a painting, we observe several other details that go beyond the mere aesthetic aspect of painting, and that are less likely to be misleading. The chassis, the material of the canvas, the frame, etc. All these elements are rigorously studied by experts which allows them to identify fake paintings.

For manual reproductions, it is not always so obvious. Some painting techniques can be confusing and really give the illusion of an original work. The manual reproductions of the 19th and 20th centuries were fairly faithful and respected the techniques of packaging and framing of the time. Only an expert will be able to identify if the work is a reproduction. For this, they will observe several elements:

The medium (including the frame and canvas)

At first, the expert will ensure that the canvas is made using materials consistent with the era in which the painting was supposedly painted. Vintage linen and the use of a wooden panelling are also elements that can help date a painting.

The coating

Classical painting techniques included the use of a coating on the substrate. The substances used are numerous: glue, rabbit skin, Meudon white, casein, Gesso, etc. These elements also provide information on the age of the painting, and thus on its actual origin.

The painting technique and colours

These elements are the most essential when determining the value of an item, and only an expert in Art History will be able to analyse them. In the case of a reproduction, the artist’s technique is generally rough, with low volumes and shapes. The use of a copying grid is also easily identifiable. As far as colour is concerned, the original works are generally successions of superimposed layers acting between them. By studying this succession of layers, the expert will quickly decide on the authenticity of the painting. Other technical and artistic elements are also important such as the medium, the frame or simply the signature of the artist. From all these elements, and taking into account the situation of the Art market, the team of Mr Expert is able to provide, with justification, a value for the painting submitted for appraisal.

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