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How to tell if it is an Original, Reproduction or Print?

Posted by on 8/14/2005

There are a lot of ways to tell if a piece is a reproduction or an original, especially to a trained artist. If you are not an artist, but rather a collector, let me tell you about a few things that anyone could look for. As far as authenticity, if you determine that it is in fact a painting and not a print…that should be done by a professional. Anyone willing to sell a piece of artwork should give you the option of authenticating it.

1-Ask to have the backing removed. This can be done carefully without any damage done and easily replaced. The dust-cover, or backing paper is easily and inexpensively replaced, if it is torn. This is done with all authentications. Once the dust-cover is removed, look at the back of the canvas. Held up to the light (with the back of the canvas facing you), you should see multiple layers of paint. This is usually more evident with paintings in the style of Gottlieb, where lines and shapes are present. Artists apply oil paint in layers, so what you are looking for is ‘thickness’, or evidence of the vicious medium. *Please note here that they are getting tricky and using various glosses, varnishes and gel combinations to ‘effect’ brush strokes. If you look closely at the back, and front, you will often see that the strokes do not match the subject matter. Ink from a machine is sprayed completely even.

2-Ask to have the frame removed. This can also be done carefully without any damage done and easily replaced. If it is a print, you will see a straight line all around the four edges of the piece. They may have tried to conceal this with painted on fake brush strokes, but with careful examination you will still see the line underneath. When an artist works, there will always be paint on the edge of the canvas from obvious effort. Even with those artists that use tape for a clean edge, there will be some seepage underneath the tape and paint ‘debris, such as, splashes, speckles, ‘feather’ markings. Work from a machine will always have a straight and very clean line.

3-And finally, if you have a good magnifying glass, or a jeweler’s loop, you can examine the front of the piece. What you are looking for here, is evidence of a printing machines pixels…or minute dots. A very good giclee machine will still leave some evidence, but you may need to know what you are looking for. Also, look for ‘breaking’ across the tooth of the canvas. This will be seen on the highlights of the piece, so look for any white. White is generally left alone on a piece and often applied last. With the magnifier, closely look at the tooth, or ‘bumps’, of the canvas to see that the white paint is only sitting on the top of the tooth. As the brush is pulled over the canvas with the thick final strokes, the top of the tooth is what grabs the paint. If it is a large area, look at the edge of the white, or highlight, color.

If all of this leaves you in the same ‘guessing’ spot, then my advice is this…have it authenticated. For either the forger has done such a great job that his effort alone deserves the fee, or…you may have the real deal.

Best of luck to you and I will hope you have a real FIND!
Bj.

12 Responses to How to tell if it is an Original, Reproduction or Print?

  1. Jean Slocumb

    Thanks for your valuable advise.

  2. Harry Gray

    Thanks for the information. I am going to an auction were there is advertised a “Painting”. If so I would be very interested in it. If it is a print but advetized as a painting I want to know that. Your infomation might prove very helpful.

    Thank you,
    Harry

  3. MonetExperts

    It’s also important to protect your investment!! Having your artwork authenticated by professionals is an incredibly important step if you want to be successful in the art market. If you need any help on this please visit monetexperts.com. Have a great day!

  4. bjdecastro

    Note: I have not used Monet Experts, so although I have approved this comment, I can not make a personal recommendation. I DO, however, agree with their advise to have your artwork authenticated by professionals. (Thank you MonetExperts for your post)

  5. Lee

    So many years I’ve searched for information on a picture, reproduction, print still not sure what it is. Have contacted so many experts all telling me different things. I have a Giacomo Brogi picture which is 3 feet X 3 feet of the La Madonna del Magnificat, original painting by Botticelli. On the back of this cloth there is a label with a number on it and says the name of the picture and the who is the artist was. It also states it was from The Galleria Uffizi Firenze – Giacomo Brogi foto. I found his (Giacomo Brogi)archive book and the number that is on the back of this picture was found in his archive book, which says this picture was in the Galleria Royale Uffizi – Firenze. After so many years I still don’t know what it is. Have any suggestions on how to tell if it is a print? or reproduction? or an actual photograph? Who knows someday my answer will come. Thank you for any information you can send me.
    Lee

  6. bjdecastro

    Hi Lee. All of those things are printed so you are really trying to ascertain the purpose of the printing. You said it’s a cloth. .. Do you mean canvas? What is the number on the back? Was it framed/matted? Many artists will ship pieces unframed and rolled to a show for best protection of the work. They will then be framed for the show and returned to the artist the same way the artist shipped it. It sounds to me what you have is a catalog number for the show or even a display wall number so the event coordinators know which wall/position to hang. My advice is to find more info on the show if you can. Find out if other pieces were sold by him and that will give an evaluator some place to start to estimate is worth.

  7. Lee

    bjdecastro, It’s not on canvas, it looks like an old cloth which is unraveling at the bottom. The number on the back is 2658 – LA MADONNA DEL MAGNIFICAT – Sondro Botticelli – Galleria Uffizi – Firenze – Giacomo Brogi, – Fotog., Edit., – Firenze. It’s in a frame. It belonged to my grandmother and was given to my mother which was given to me many years ago. My questions are if this was in the Uffizi would the Galleria Uffizi have records of who might have purchased this picture? From what I understand is at that time the photographer had to have permission to photograph the original painting done by Sondro Botticelli which still this day is in the Uffizzi. What really got me excited was after I took a picture with my camera and downloaded it onto my computer which has sort of an x-ray thing where I can look really close. So as I was looking at this picture I found these letters AfB in the arm of the Angel, so now my other question would be, is it possible for a photograph to have picked up the hidden letters? Does the original painting by Allisandro f Botticelli have these letters in them. Now I’m excited again, forgive me for going on, but as you can tell I’m not a collector and have no knowledge of what is a photograph or a reproduction, or a print. If you would like to see these pictures I can certainly email them to you. There amazing. Forgot to tell you there is another picture that belonged to my grandmother which was done on I believe its panel, this one was done by Bartholeme Estaban Murillo called The Immaculate Conception of De Soult. Thank you so much for the information you sent me I will try to find out more about a show I assume it had to have been in Italy not sure. Thank you again
    Lee

  8. bjdecastro

    They are all reproductions – just done with differing methods and then assigned a starting money value based on quantity first, then method/process/substrate and lastly…that particular artist’s earning potential per piece – at that particular moment in time. The latter can vary greatly from year to year. And when doing your research, NEVER look at the asking price of artwork listed for sale. Only take the SOLD prices. Any artist or their agent can ask a crazy dollar amount for a piece, but it’s only worth that amount if someone actually pays it. This is sometimes done for promotion to make the creator appear more valuable. Since what you have is a reproduction, then any markings you find on it are only going to serve as value indicators to a specialist appraiser familiar with his work. My advice is to splurge on the appraisal fee and find out what you are craving to know. If the appraiser is worth the money, then they will also have answers to your questions about it’s history. Good luck!

  9. Lee

    Thank you so much for your time and advise, it is greatly appreciated.

  10. bjdecastro

    You are welcome!

  11. eric

    Just got gifted a few pieces of nice art. Not originals but they do have signatures and numbers (364/748). I even have one with a limited edition authentication certificate. Are they prints? If so are they still worth money. They have nice frames, glass, dust covers, and some even have gallery stickers on them. Some have a print signatures and an additional artist signature. Any info would be helpful. Thank you.

  12. bjdecastro

    Hi Eric. Yes, anything numbered (364/748) is a print/reproduction. L/E (limited editions) are also prints/reproductions. I’m not going sugar-coat this for you…since the advent of new technologies and the strained budgets for luxury spending, these items have dropped dramatically in value. This is why I got out of the print making biz. It just wasn’t worth my time. We now live a world of digital sharing and EVERYONE can take decent enough pictures with a camera that is with them at all times; go online; order wall-art, matted and framed to any size and do it inexpensively.

    Signatures, numbers, certificates, stickers and extra documents aren’t going to change the value of the print/reproduction unless that particular artist is World-Famous (past or currently)- AND…has the ‘current’ sales history to warrant any great value. It’s kinda like the real estate market…an artist can put any price they want on a print, but it’s only going to sell for the value of the current market environment.

    To find out what that current value is…you will most likely need to hire a professional art appraiser. As the art trends ebb and flow, these professionals stay current on the pricing. Many people spend countless hours searching the internet without success. That’s because, what you will find on the internet will only be what someone/company has posted and will not contain a complete catalog with current values that they hope for. A professional appraiser will either – already know it, or know how to get that info. The tricky part…is that the appraisal could cost you $100-200 with a final art value of say…$50. So do your research before you hire one and I would also recommend taking several pieces for a better ‘batch’ price. Good luck!

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