08 Oct 2013
October 8, 2013

The Appraiser’s Notebook – October 2013

October 8, 2013

Last month I gave a brief overview of the two-day symposium I attended that was sponsored by the Foundation for Appraisal Education and hosted by the Quinn and Farmer Auction Group in Leesburg, VA.

This month I wanted to focus on the talk given by Alan Fausel, MA, FRICS, VP and Director of Fine Arts for Bonham’s in New York City entitled, “How To Tell a Fake Painting Without Seeing It.”

I was particularly interested in his discussion as I have had it pounded into my head that one of the most dangerous things you can do is attempt to value some items, especially artwork, without looking at it.  Doing so can leave you exposed to litigation when the client relies on the appraisal to insure, donate, or distribute, or pay taxes on the said item.

Alan was thorough and had much to say in the space of just an hour.  I scribbled as fast as I could and I shall do my best to share his funny but commonsense (at least to an appraiser) approach to figuring out a fake without seeing it.

Beware the overeager individual.  You know – the one who just can’t wait to get their artwork sold at auction.  They frequently have a blizzard of documentation they put together on their piece to prove it’s worth.  Yet, despite the documentation, there is no provenance (which is a history of the ownership of the piece).

If there is a nameplate on the piece (and many of these fakes have them), the artist is often wrongly cited.  And beware too many signatures on the piece – front, back, and nameplate. You should also make the consignor say the name of the artist as they frequently mispronounce it.

Ask your consignor detailed questions about their art and pay attention to these further flags:

The consignor wants to either consign it in someone else’s name or wants the check made out to someone else.

The consignor is OK with paying the auction house full commission on the sale of the artwork.  Most consignors of good work by known artists negotiate the seller’s commission and other related costs with the auction house.

The consignor drops the reserve before the auction.  If the consignor knows she owns a good piece she would want to protect herself from selling too low in an auction venue.

The consignor is in a hurry or on a deadline for a sale of his work.  This could also be called “take the money and run.”

The consignor received the piece in lieu of a debt owed to her.

The piece was in an online auction but not offered (it still has the label on it but when you research it you can’t find it online.)

Anything by Degas, Klimt, Holbein, Beardsley or Rubens should be held in high suspicion, to which I would add Picasso and Salvador Dali.

Finally, if the piece came from Florida, be afraid.  Be very afraid!

About the Author


Beth A. Kinstler, ISA-CAPP is a certified member of the International Society of Appraisers and the president of Avalon Appraisals and Estate Sales. She may be reached at 912-238-1211 or 912-659-2900.