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Establishing a Papertrail for Your Art Collection: What You Need to Know

By Borro

As you are developing an art collection, it is important to have background information on each piece of artwork you acquire. Having this information will aid in cataloguing your art collection as well as selling or borrowing against it.

The information you should have on record is:

  • Artist’s name
  • Title of the piece and year it was created
  • Dimensions and medium of the piece
  • Details of the markings or signatures on the piece
  • The object’s condition and provenance
  • Auction and exhibition history for the object

Some of the details are straightforward but you may not be sure where to find others. The first place to look is the receipt, especially one from a gallery. It will list the basics of the artwork e.g., artist name, title and year of the artwork) but also the provenance and it serves as proof of ownership. The receipt should always be kept when purchasing artwork.

Source: Christie’s

The back of a painting is incredibly important as it has various pieces of information that can provide provenance and auction history. A past appraisal or a condition report prepared by a reputable conservator are also helpful as they would hold information on the medium, material, markings and signature.

Identifying the medium of the artwork can also be tricky. Here are some tips:

  • If the painting has an edition number, it is most likely a print and not a canvas.
  • Oil paintings and water colors have distinct appearances making them simpler to identify
  • Having high resolution photos of the pieces in your art collection are imperative as they can assist a valuation specialist with determining the factors you may be having difficulty with.

Knowing the exhibition and publication history of an artwork is also significant. The fact that an artwork has been critically assessed helps a potential seller or lender gain a level of comfort with it. Exhibitions and publications also provide provenance. If an artwork has appeared in a publication, it means it was written about by someone knowledgeable about the art and well-known in the industry. It invariably provides validation for the artwork. Artworks that have been featured in exhibitions and publications are also viewed favorably in the marketplace and may enhance the demand.

Most sellers and lenders will want to know the auction history of an artwork so this another set of information that is important to have. The auction history is also used to add credibility to the artwork. Previous and recent offerings for sale can have an impact upon the value that is offered for the artwork.

Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, you must be able to prove ownership of the artwork. You will not be able to sell or borrow against your piece without proof that you have sole ownership of it. This would again be demonstrated by a formal receipt or notarized document that confirms your ownership. 

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