authenticating a print

Marc Chagall, Rêve familier, 1969 © Adagp, Paris 2023

Art never ceases to captivate and win over enthusiasts and amateur collectors alike. Thanks to their popular and affordable format, prints are the gateway to the art market. But these original prints can also be mere reproductions, or their signature can be forged, so it's essential to ensure the print'sauthenticity of the print before acquiring it.

What elements justify the authenticity of a print?

A print, regardless of the technique used(lithography, woodcut, etching, monotype, etc.), has a number of characteristics that can be used to distinguish an authentic work from a fake. While professional expertise remains the best solution for authenticate an original printthe following elements can reassure or, on the contrary, alarm the neophyte.

Numbering and signature

For a multiple work such as a print, numbering is an essential element that justifies the edition justify the edition and the artist's involvement. This numbering refers to the print run number, usually written on the bottom left of the paper (5/100, for example), next to the artist's signature on the bottom right. For example, if the print is numbered 5/100, this means that the artist produced 100 identical proofs, and that the one you have in your hands is the fifth Impression.

However, watch out for forged signatures. Whether the eye of a seasoned collector or an art novice, detecting a forged signature is quite complex. To authenticate a print you're interested in, refer to the artist's catalog raisonné to check the print run and type of signature, and enlist the help of professionals in the field. 

The off-the-shelf label

In addition to numbered prints for distribution, a few sheets are reserved for the artist, the printer and the artist's collaborators. These additional prints are marked E.A. (épreuve d'artiste) or H.C. (hors commerce), proving the print's authenticity.

These proofs, originally intended for conservation by the artist and collaborators of copies of each print, may appear on the market after a certain period of time, in the wake of deaths, inheritances or the need to offer works for sale. 

In printmaking, artist's proofs or off-prints have the same numerical value as numbered proofs.  

There is also a unique copy of each print, signed by the artist and annotated BAT or "Bon à tirer". This document is the final test proof that validates and authorizes the print run. As this is a unique document, bons à tirer have a higher value than the numbered print run. 

Paper

By its texture, grain or weight, the quality of the paper can be typical of a specific period or place of production. An analysis of the paper's watermark often enables us to date and determine the print's origin. The different papers used for a print are often listed in the artist's catalog raisonné, helping to authenticate the work.

Arenthon Gallery

A few tips on how to authenticate a work of art

Authenticating a print is usually a complex process, requiring specific knowledge of art history and printing techniques, as well as a good grasp of the artist's production and its context. Today, when you want to buy or collect to buy or collect printsEven if you're a seasoned collector, it can happen that you acquire a counterfeit work. Here are a few tips you can follow before buying a print.

Take a close look at the print

First look at the the details of the sheet and examine the print quality.. You can look for printer's marks, such as stamps or inscriptions from a previous owner. Any inscriptions on the sheet can provide clues about the artist, the printing technique, the creative process and the history of the print. To know if you're looking at a genuine work of art, it's important to "get your eye in". Learn to read the margins, and the more of an artist's signature you come across, the better you'll be able to recognize a bad or fake signature.

Research the artist

Find out all you can about the artist who created the print. Collecting art requires knowledge, which is why it's important to research information about the artist's life, artistic style, preferred printing technique and the marks he used to sign his prints.

Compare the print with the catalog raisonné

To help youauthentication of this mediumThe artist's catalog raisonné is the reference tool used by all art market professionals, and should become yours too. The catalog raisonné lists all known works created by an artist during his or her lifetime. For major artists, catalogs raisonnés are produced by medium (paintings, sculptures, ceramics, engravings, lithographs, etc.). Visit theIFAR (International foundation for Art Research) to find out about existing catalogs raisonnés.

In a catalog raisonné, you'll find the fullest possible description of an artist's works. It also provides invaluable information on the artist's production, his working methods, his publishers and printers, as well as a study of his various signatures.

Get professional expertise

If you're not sure of the print's authenticity, it's best to call in an art expert for a professional appraisal. This is all the more important for prints by renowned or historic artists, as their value can be very high and, as a result, many forgeries can circulate on the art market.

With their sharp eye and in-depth knowledge of artists' production and the art market, these art experts can examine the print in depth (techniques used, treatment of materials, line of drawing...) to determine the work'sauthenticity of the work. A print reveals texts and motifs that are decisive in identifying an artistic movement, a period or even a country of origin, proving its authenticity. Authentication of a print is essential to guarantee its origin and provenance, as well as its appraisal. Galerie d'art Arenthon in Paris offers certificates of authenticity for the works it sells, signed by its two experts, Messrs Yves and Marc Lebouc, respectively expert to the Chambre Nationale des Experts and to the Paris Court of Appeal.

Appraising a print 

Getting an idea of a print's value on the art market and estimating its value is always a good idea, especially when you want to add value to your collection.

We recommend that you have your print appraised in Paris by an art expert. He will be able to give you a precise estimate based on the artist, the rarity of the print, its state of conservation, its provenance, its date and its quality.

To have your print(s) appraised, you can contact a specialized gallery, a recognized expert or an auction house. As a rule, each contact has a specific period or region of expertise. At Galerie Arenthon, for example, we specialize in modern prints (first half of the 20th century) and our experts are mandated by the Comité Chagall and authorized by the Picasso Administration to authenticate prints by these artists.  

Would you like to start a print collection? To be sure of acquiring authentic works, it's advisable to turn to a specialized gallery, recognized and respected in the field. Galerie Arenthon offers a vast collection of prints. Discover the works!