Provenance: What It Is and Why It Matters.
Provenance: What It Is and Why It Matters.
From the French word, provenir, meaning “to come from,” provenance is the chronology of the ownership, custody, or location of an object. Provenance is the documentation used to authenticate a particular art piece. These documents are used in general to establish authenticity, ownership, and value. In addition, provenance documentation can prove that the item has not been stolen and that the current owner has a clear title for the item that can legally be passed to the buyer upon purchase.
Although provenance is important for many reasons, the most important is that well-documented provenance helps confirm that an item is authentic. Verified provenance can prove the authenticity of a piece and greatly increase its value. Ideally, the provenance or “chain of custody” will go all the way back to the artist’s studio. Undocumented gaps of time in an object’s history could indicate that the item may be a forgery with a fabricated history bringing the object’s authenticity and value into question. Provenance can establish an item’s collectible significance beyond what it would otherwise appear to have. Sometimes, a piece with interesting provenance, such a famous owner or remarkable period in history, can be just as interesting as the piece itself!
Provenance comes in many forms and should be researched and documented. It may also include the auction houses, dealers, or galleries that have sold an item, the private or institutional collections in which the item has been held, and exhibition history. Provenance based solely on verbal representations or family lore which are unable to be corroborated with documentation are typically unacceptable. It is possible that fraudulent documentation can be used to establish a work’s provenance. As such, multiple forms of documentation, thorough research, and due diligence in establishing authenticity of the documentation itself is important.
Some Examples of Provenance Documentation:
- Receipt, Invoice, or Bill of Sale:these documents serve to confirm the date that an item previously changed owners, and the identity of the parties involved, such as a private owner, gallery, or auction house. This document can also serve as proof that the person owns the item they are selling and therefore has a clear title for the object that can be legally passed to the buyer upon purchase.
- Previous appraisal:an object may have been previously appraised, possibly as part of an estate or for insurance purposes. Because values fluctuate over time, a previous appraisal serves to document the age and ownership of an object, rather than the current value.
- Inclusion in an auction/ illustration in an auction catalog:if an item has been previously included in an auction, the sale result is usually available to the public. If the auction house publishes catalogs, the item could be illustrated in the catalog for the sale.
- Illustration in an exhibition catalog from a museum or gallery:if an item has been included in a museum or gallery exhibition, it will be mentioned and usually illustrated in a catalog published along with the exhibition.
- Inventory number indicating de-accession from a museum or corporate collection:items held in museum or corporate collections are given inventory numbers, and these numbers accompany the work when it leaves the collection. They serve to verify that the work or object was part of this collection during a specific time-period.
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Provenance: What It Is and Why It Matters. From the French word, provenir, meaning “to come from,” provenance is the chronology of the ownership, custody, or location of an object. Provenance is the documentation used to authenticate a particular art piece. These documents are used in general to establish authenticity, ownership, and value. In addition, provenance documentation can […]
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