Provenance—Its Importance in Art Collection

History buffs thrive on the stories that shape our world: Where we have started, the experiences which have shaken the world, and how we arrived at our current location.  In the world of art, this history, the journey which a work of art has travelled to arrive at its current location, is called Provenance. From the French word, provenir, meaning “to come from,” it is more than just the story of a work of art’s life or a timeline of ownership; it validates and confirms its value to the owner, even though it can be met with delight or grief, depending on the conclusion. Loosely considered the “title chain” of a work of art, you will find a vast array of different combinations of proof within the provenance of any work of art.

Provenance vs. Authenticity—Not One and the Same

Although they may sound similar, the two terms are not always interchangeable. A Certificate of Authenticity (COA) can simply be a statement which provides important descriptive details about the artwork’s creation, from medium to subject, artist to dimensions. It may include citations of the works’ mention in resources and a concise history of ownership. However, they are notorious for being fraudulent, so one must not rest an art purchase based solely on one. Opinions vary on COAs, as some believe they are necessary while others have found them to be invalid or simply wrong on multiple occasions. Since it is not impossible to utilize online resources to fabricate a believable COA, extra care must be taken to ensure its validity. Provenance, on the other hand, includes a more exhaustive collection of information, offering a complete illustration of a work of art.

What to Consider with Authenticity AND Provenance

  • Use the COA, but don’t take it as THE final word
  • Review the paper trail—ask for all documentation and look for originals, not copies,
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions BEFORE you buy
  • If there is any uncertainty or originals cannot be provided, ask for letters of reference from previous owners/galleries
  • An appraisal is just an appraisal–not provenance

The Value of an Art Professional

Provenance is more than just proof of a work of art’s past; it provides rationale for the value of a piece of work, its position in a collection, and its importance to an artist’s career. Having an art professional assisting you, especially in the early years of collecting, will help you to not only make educated purchases, but to assist you in building your own skills to recognize accurate provenance. You will likely encounter situations where the provenance is unclear, and a professional is necessary to verify a dated COA, appraise a work of art whose provenance is in question, or to help you with maintaining the documentation on your collection, so this relationship will undoubtedly come in handy and be long-lived.

Sybaris Collection

Sybaris offers unique works from around the world to perceptive art collectors. When you are searching for the perfect piece, visit our site at Sybaris Collection to browse the assortment of art which we have gathered around the world. In addition, we offer professional art advisory services, from helping you select works perfectly suited for your taste, custom framing options, to appraisal services. For our most discriminating art enthusiasts, consider joining the exclusive ARTclub; we provide exceptional works with a personalized approach.