Conflict of interest when a gallery or an auction house makes an art appraisal!

Updated: Jul 2, 2018

We see more and more art galleries ( who are art merchants in reality ) and auction houses offering "free art appraisal" without being concerned by the authenticity of an artwork.

It is true, that making an art appraisal without having a certificate of authenticity ( C.O.A ) doesn't make much sense.

How can an appraiser give an art appraisal without the certainty that the artwork is authentic?

An honest art appraiser will never appraise an artwork if he is sure that the artwork is a fake, at least he should refuse to give an art appraisal.

A customer wants to know the value of an artwork asap.

An appraiser will give the customer a value for the artwork assuming that the artwork is authentic and will mention this reserve in his appraisal.

A simple art appraisal can be made in a reasonably period of time, usually a couple hours.

Auction data for artworks are available almost for each artist painter, sculptor, photographer.

A good art expert will compare the artwork he has to appraise, with works sold in auction, of the same subject, the same period of creation, the same quality. Besides these elements, he will consider the history of the provenance of the artwork, and the state of conservation of an artwork. ( I will explain in another chapter about this state of conservation, what it is about, and how important it is).

Some pretend that an art appraisal without a C.O.A doesn't makes sense.

If an art appraisal expert wants to be sure that an art appraisal includes the authenticity he will need to wait to have a response from the "sole recognized universal authentication expert" for some artist up to 5 or 6 months to obtain such a C.O.A.

By example, the " Chagall Comite " in Paris has only 2 sessions a year where they will meet to recognize an artwork as authentic.

I didn't mention the costs related to this for the art appraiser himself: time, meetings with the sole recognized authentication expert for an artist, the fee charged by these foundation or recognized experts etc.

In conclusion about this part of the problem, an art appraiser will give to the customer an estimate of the value of the analyzed artwork, under the reserve that the artwork is authentic.

A customer can't wait for 5 6 months to know the possible value of his artwork.

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The certificate of authenticity (C.O.A.) or an art appraisal made by a gallery generates a conflict of interest.

The art appraisal made by a gallery that sells you an artwork will almost always be higher than the price you pay the gallery for a painting. Ask instead an art appraisal made by a reputable expert before to definitely buy the artwork.

A C.O.A., made by a gallery for a painting that they sell to a customer, is obviously in conflict of interests. They will never tell you that the painting you buy $100,000 is in reality a fake.

Often they will write in the bill of sale: a work "attributed to" which will avoid them to be sued, because an attribution is not a certitude it was made by the hand of.

There is an exception: Some rare galleries were the exclusive sellers for an artist, like Castelli started in 1949 with Willem De Kooning, Vollard for Picasso etc. If you have a C.O.A. made by these galleries it supposed not to suffer any contest, "BUT" I advise always to hire a reputable expert who will verify the concordance between the C.O.A. and the artwork the gallery sells.

Anecdote: A couple years ago, a famous gallery in NY sold a fake Renoir with an authentic C.O.A. made by Francois Daulte who was the uncontested expert for Renoir. The famous NY gallery had bought 10 years before the authentic Renoir with the authentic C.O.A in a Parisian auction. The gallery sold the authentic Renoir but with a copy of the authentic C.O.A. by Daulte to a Japanese collector. 10 years later the gallery sold a copy made of the original painting with the real C.O.A by Fr. Daulte! The Japanese owner of the authentic Renoir saw with stupefaction his own painting by Renoir offered for sale in a NY auction.

"A painting should always be sold by a gallery with the C.O.A. made by the sole recognized authentication expert for the artist."

In conclusion my advice is:

- If you buy a painting from a gallery with a C.O.A, have always the C.O.A be reconfirmed by the actual sole recognized authentication expert.The archives of the expert will immediately detect if there is some fraud going on.

- If you buy a painting from a gallery with a C.O.A. older than 6 months, request from the gallery an updated C.O.A. from the sole recognized expert. The expert may have been changed and does not necessarily agrees with the former recognized expert.

-If you buy from a gallery a painting with an important value, "always" request the assistance of a reputable expert.

There are so many scandals going on in galleries, for example. a NY gallery ( one of the oldest in the country) selling fake Jackson Pollock paintings for $65M when they were painted recently by a Chinese man in his garage for a couple thousand of $..

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Art appraisals made for free by auction houses!

to be continued