Authentication and Appraisal

The process to authenticate or determine the value of a work of art by Maud Lewis invovles a few steps. Some of these steps you can do yourself while others will require the help from an experienced professional. It is important to familarize yourself with the process which will give you a better understanding of how a value is determined. You maybe surprised to learn that it doesn't involve any magic and is similar to how homes or realestate are given a valuation or estimate.

How to authenticate or appraise a Maud Lewis painting.

Write down details on where or how you aquired the artwork.

The process of authentication involves understanding the known history of a work of art.  This history starts with how you acquired the work of art. It's a very good idea to write this information down because then it will be easier to remember specific details.

Example details which you might record

  • The painting was gifted to me by my uncle
  • I know my uncle had the painting for at least 30 years
  • My uncle was living in Toronto at that time

Take several photographs of the painting or item.

You will need some good digital photographs of your artwork to share the information with an expert. Photos from any modern cell phone will usually work and taking photos outside under natural light with no filters will help ensure accuracy.

Take the following photos of your artwork.

  • At least one photograph showing the  complete artwork including frame.
  • Detailed photograph of the painting's signature.
  • Photograph showing the complete back of the artwork.
  • Detailed photograph of any labels, plaques or other markings.
  • Detailed photo of any visible damage or markings on the artwork.

Examine the overall condition and specifications of the artwork.

Works of art like humans will age over time. It's a natural processes which is expected and understanding how a painting has aged or has been cared for is an important part in determining value.

A visual inspection can be done on the painting to see if there are any noticible scuffs, scratches or abraisions. If any are found they should be photographed and the area or section of the painting should be noted.

If the painting is not framed or the back of the painting is fully exposed then the edges of the painting can be examined to determine if the structure has any condition issues.   Works on panel or board can split over time, and works of canvas may become loose or stretched.

A qualified expert should be consulted with to determine overall condition of an artwork. They will examine a work of art under blue lights to help determine if any previous restoration work has been done on a painting, or to help to determine if there are any condition issues that are not easily visible.

Find similar or comparable artworks and validate information.

Once information, photographs and condition details have been gathered on the work of art, comparisons with other known information about the artist and their overall body of work can be made.

This is a very similar process to how a home is appraised. Using details such as the size, date and condition, you can compare one artwork with others created by the same artist.

This stage of the process is where help from a market expert is very much needed. A qualified expert will use searchable online databases and should also have their own records documenting sales and market data regarding the artist.

Some of the comparisons that should be made include:

  • Was the work of art created in the early part of the artists career, during their most productive years or during the later part of their career.
  • How many other works of art did the artist create in this time frame.
  • Is the size, subject matter or composition common for the artist.
  • How many comparable works have been sold or offered for sale in previous years.
  • What are the realized prices for recent and typical sales of the artist's work in both the auction and private market.

Understanding the different types of appraisals and receiving a value.

There are many reasons why a work of art may need to be appraised or estimated for value. The end value placed on the artwork will vary and there may also be legal or regulatory requirements based on the intended use of the information provided in a formal appraisal.

Common reasons and formats of appraisals include:

Insurance Appraisal
An insurance appraisal will look at the replacement cost of an item in the case that an item is lost, damaged or replaced. This may include consideration of agent fees or commissions and doesn't necessarily reflect the cash value of an artwork. An insurance appraisal should be updated every 3 to 5 years.

Market Value Appraisal
A market appraisal will take a more detailed look at what price a work of art could achieve if offered for sale. This could also take the form of a high and low estimate of value denoting a range if offered for sale through an auction process. Market value appraisals will have a short life span and may only be relevant for a few months to a year.

Cultural Properties or Export Permits
Many countries have regulations in place which determine what types of artwork can be exported and what can be donated to a museum or public institution. In some scenarios multiple appraisals or documented examples could be required. You should always review the qualifications of the experts you consult to make sure they are experienced in providing they type of appraisal you require.