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1) The surface.
If someone believes to be in possession of an authentic painting, the first step is to rub the surface of the work with one’s fingers. If the surface has some thickness with rugged paint relief, that one is almost sure to be in the presence of a painting. There are however printing techniques, designed at the start of the 20th Century in Germany (Oleo druck), enabling to reproduce a painting with such relieves but the canvas supporting the work would often look new. All the more there would be no trace of brush on these reproductions of very little value. However, new techniques have been designed in the 1950’s by which a reproduction would show a thick surface with brushstrokes. These reproductions are often produced with the help of a photography on which paint would have been added by hand or mechanical wise.

2) Regarding a watercolor, the surface of the paper should have some grain and not be glossy and flat. In addition, the best way to determine whether the work is a watercolor or gouache is to wet the tip of a small cotton ball and to apply it gently on a patch of color. Some color would then appear on that tip, suggesting that it is a genuine work.

3) Still, some reproductions are heightened with watercolor or gouache. So it seems essential to use a magnifying glass to detect crayon lines or a sketch underneath the watercolor. If regular dots are seen, then the work might simply be a print heightened with colors.

4) If there is a printed copyright mention on the lower left or right side of the work, then this is surely a print. If there is a signature in crayon or watercolor, then the work would probably be genuine.

5) Lithography’s and prints.
Usually a screen made of dots can be seen through a magnifying glass with grain traces like sand on the surface. In addition, very small spots of ink or smudges can be detected on the surface whereas some lines are so thin that no stroke of a pen could make them. Many prints bear the mark of the press all along their edges and seem to form a hollow surface like a kind of intaglio engraving. Not all engravings, like wood cuts and etchings, have a hollow surface but one can see clearly printed lines on the surface or even feel them when caressing an etching. There have been also prints heightened with watercolors which were quite deceiving and really looking like hand-made works where printed dots could not be detected. Offset and serigraphic prints are usually totally flat. Serigraphic works by Andy Warhol were in fact photomechanical processes whereby an image was reproduced in a limited edition on a silk screen with the addition of acrylic colors of different tones which may look like paintings in the eyes of non-professionals.

6) Sheets of paper could be thick or thin with different grains. Many forgers have used old sheets to produce works so as to make believe they had been made during previous centuries.

7) The signature of a painter is not a guarantee that the work being examined was produced by him. Many forged signatures have been added on oil works, drawings or watercolors. The same objection applies for prints. For example, the printed signature of Salvador Dali was often added on white sheets of paper even before they went to the lithographer’s studio or worse, such signature or even a forged one, was added to lithographs. There were also some so-called posthumous signatures added on certain prints (Magritte for example, by his wife) by the heirs of many artists.

8) Techniques :
There have been different working techniques : oil, tempera (a medium containing egg), acrylic mixtures, watercolors, gouache, crayon, black or red chalk, plumbago, monotypes and prints of all kinds used by artists.

9) Reproductions or prints usually carry little value though some genuine engravings produced by famous artists, such as Dürer, Cranach, Altdorfer, Rembrandt, Goya, Piranese, Daumier, Degas, Géricault, Toulouse-lautrec, Nolde, Munch, Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Bonnard or Morandi could reach tremendous prices.

10) It is of course very important to know if you have an original or a reproduction before to ask an art appraisa

GerardVan Weyenbergh

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