Provenance: What You Should Know As an Art Collector

Did you find an art piece that might win you a fortune? What you need to make the art worth is provenance. Read more to know why provenance is pivotal.

Provenance: What You Should Know As an Art Collector 1

Are you an art collector? Are you sure that the art pieces you have collected until now are worth a fortune? Without proper documentation, every artwork is valueless. This is why you need provenance. So what exactly is provenance? It is valid documentation of any artwork and includes information on its history, artist, and appraisal value. You can check the authenticity of artwork on different platforms, such as the art history website from

As an art collector, it is important that you seek the provenance of every art piece that you collect. There are many frauds who try to sell art claiming that it’s highly valued. To prevent situations like these, always ensure that you have proper provenance to prove the authenticity of every art piece that you own. In this article, we have gathered all the information that, as an art collector, you will need to know about provenance.

Types of Provenance

Provenance for any art piece can come in different forms depending on the availability of resources and information regarding the art.

  1. Bill, receipt, or invoice: A complete bill or invoice should contain the legal names of all the owners, who bought the art piece previously, the dates of purchase, and the amount for which it was sold. This piece of document proves the legality of the purchase by the present owner of the art.
  2. Previous appraisal: If the piece was previously appraised, this document can be served as a provenance. However, appraisals can sometimes be inaccurate as over time, experts do more research and new information can come out.
  3. Previous auction catalog: If the item has been auctioned then the auction catalog is usually open to the public. This catalog can serve as provenance as it shows valid information about the owner.
  4. Exhibition catalog from museum or gallery: Museums and galleries tend to showcase authentic art. So if the art piece you are interested in buying was ever showcased, an exhibition catalog may serve as provenance. You can find more details about the art in the catalog too.
  5. Inventory number from corporate or museum collection: Every art piece that is bought or taken from a museum or corporate collection, is assigned an inventory number. This number proves that the art piece is authentic and hence, can be used as provenance.

What Should You Look For?

If you do not know what a proper provenance should look like, chances are high that you will get played! When you look at the documents of an art piece, make sure they contain the following:

Work Description

The provenance should include a detailed work description where every detail of the art should be logged. From the dimensions of the art, type of medium used, type of color used, etc. all information should be there in the work description.

Identifiable Signature

The signature of the artist on the art piece should not only be identifiable but also legitimate. This will give you the chance to trace back the original artist and hence, prove that the workpiece is valid.

An Original Copy

An original copy of the provenance is a must. No photocopies or PDFs should be considered as original documents. Make sure that you have a proper digitally printed document with an inked signature (a signature is the most crucial part).

List of Previous Owners

Chances are high that the art piece you are buying has been bought and resold by others before. In fact, being the first owner, especially of an old art piece, is rare. Having a list of all the previous owners will help you trace back the art and confirm the accuracy of the documents. The names of the owners should also be verifiable so that you know for a fact that these people existed.

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Seeing Is Believing

If you buy artwork without seeing the provenance first, you are putting yourself at the risk of being scammed. When it comes to provenance, seeing is believing. In some cases, you might find it difficult to obtain the documents for some artwork. We suggest that you avoid getting these pieces at all. Additionally, if you want to resell the piece later, not having a proper provenance will result in not getting a real buyer. 

Should Appraisals be Considered?

As you have seen in the types of provenance above, an appraisal can be considered only when the appraiser is an expert of art from the era to which the particular art belongs. If this is not the case, do not take a random appraiser’s word as proof of authenticity. Another thing that should be considered is the fact that an art piece can be appraised, say, for example, ten years back. It is a good idea to get a newer appraisal as experts can have different opinions in different time periods due to more research and availability of information.

Double-check Documents

Say you have viewed the documents of an artwork. Should you just believe it? It is important that you check if the documents are authentic as well. In today’s era of technology, there are numerous ways by which documents can be forged. So make sure to check twice before buying.

If you are wondering how to check for authenticity, one basic way is to talk with a real expert. For example, an expert can tell you if a signature on a paper or artwork is real or forged.

If you are interested in learning art yourself, check the best art schools around the world. 

Who Should You Believe?

Now, this certainly is an important question. All you can do is rely on experts. But can all art experts verify documents? Unfortunately, no! Different experts’ have proficiency in artists and art forms from different timelines. So an expert who studies art from the 17th century can surely help you out with 15th-century art but someone who specializes in that particular era would be much more reliable. There is no one-fits-all here.