Auctions, auctions everywhere! Since closing last year, new auction houses have sprouted up like weed. Every day there are dozens to choose from. As of this writing, the online platform invaluable.com lists an astounding 815 upcoming auctions in the next 30 days. No one can keep up with that much.
However, if you are new to the auction game, there are a few things you should know. I’ve listed a few pointers in this space before, and today let’s take a look at some of the languages specific to auctions. If you don’t know the lingo, you could get burned. So this is it.
- “Attributed to” means that the auction house thinks it knows the artist or author of the piece, but is not entirely sure.
- “From the studio or the studio of” means that the work was probably created by students or associates of the artist, but not by the artist himself.
- “Circle of” means that a piece was not produced by the artist but is from the time and reflects his influence.
- “Follower of” means that a piece is in the style of the artist but is not produced by one of his students.
- “In the style of” means that a piece reflects the influence of the artist but was produced at a later date.
- “After” means that the piece is a copy of an artist’s work but has no connection with the artist.
- “Signed / dated / inscribed” means exactly that – in the opinion of the auctioneer. Note that when such ratings have a following question mark (“?”), The auctioneer is less certain.
- “With signature / date / inscription” means that the paternity marks were probably not made by the artist himself.
- “Restored” means that some repairs have been made but the work has not been fully reconditioned.
- “Overall restored” means that a complete reconditioning has been undertaken and that the work is as new.
While some of these boundaries seem trivial, they are not. Almost without exception, the authorship and provenance of a given work of art are the determining elements of value. A painting that is unmistakably by Vincent Van Gogh is worth millions, while those with any of the qualifiers mentioned above will always be worth much less. If you are entering the auction market, or even browsing high-end galleries, these nuances of language are essential to know.
Finally, a few more caveats about buying at auction. Condition reports can vary widely, and it is always a good idea to personally inspect any item of interest before bidding. Unlike coins, there are few descriptive standards in the arts / antiques world and an auctioneer’s judgment of the condition can be very different from yours. And even the experts can be fooled when it comes to fatherhood. Some forgers have become so skilled, both in styling and in the use of period materials, that it is almost indistinguishable from the original from the imitation.
If you are buying for decorative purposes only, don’t worry. However, if you are looking for asset appreciation, proceed with caution.
Mike Rivkin and his wife, Linda, are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. For many years he was an award winning catalog publisher and author of seven books as well as countless articles. Now he is the owner of the Antique Galleries in Palm Springs. His antiques column appears on Saturdays in The Desert Sun. Want to send Mike a question about antiques? Send him a message at [email protected]