Isn’t that a region in France? 5 things you should know about provenance in Art

Frederick Gentis, Founder Gallerease
Frederick Gentis
31 Articles1 Curated artwork

You might have caught yourself searching for a signature on an artwork. But what does a signature tell you? Is it a confirmation of a painting’s authenticity or can it be forged just as easily? And what if there’s no signature at all?! Calm down, here’s what you need to know about an object’s history, or as it’s called in the art industry; its provenance. 

At any given moment the authenticity of an artwork’s history might be questioned. Provenance is the word used in the art world to describe the documentation and heritage of art. It is used as a testament of an artwork’s history and authenticity and, when documented properly, leaves no doubt.

Provenance; the meaning of this word

Art has often been forged. Good provenance can be checked and used to uncover a false painting or justify its high price if genuine and original. Unfortunately there are still a lot of false works in circulation, especially at online auctions.

Before you decide to bid for something, make sure the provenance is legitimate and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity. If you visit a good art dealer they will be able to tell you exactly what the provenance of a certain artwork is.

Provenance has many shapes and forms. Provenance isn’t a fixed piece of paper but can be anything from a written notification to a verbal statement. It can be any kind of proof that an artwork is ‘real’.

A receipt directly from the artist or even the artist caught on camera talking about the work will suffice. Also the names of previous owners, exhibitions, and literature that included the artwork, or an expert opinion from a leading appraiser.


Boats on the Zuiderzee at dusk by Johannes Hermanus Koekkoek

Boats on the 'Zuiderzee' at dusk, Johannes Hermanus Koekkoek. On offer at Mark Smit Kunsthandel


Here’s 5 key takeaways when it comes to provenance:

  1. Good provenance increases the value of art, both art historically and financially. Keeping track of an objects history and events while you own it is the responsibility of any art collector. And though you shouldn’t buy art purely as an investment, it may help if you do.
  1. Never buy any kind of art without knowing its provenance. You wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it or knowing its history, right?
  1. Certificates and other documents must be hand-stamped or signed. Photocopies don’t prove anything, unfortunately. All documentation needs to be verifiable and signers able to be contacted (if still alive that is!). Just a list of names isn’t sufficient.
  1. Provenance is not up for discussion; ‘it is’, not ‘it could be’. Claims about similar work, or the fact that an artist was in a certain place when X was painted doesn’t prove anything; they just offer assumptions. And ‘to assume makes an ASS out of U and ME’. J
  1. When an artwork has been ‘attributed to’, make sure the person who did the attributing is an expert on this artist. Otherwise the statement is meaningless. Keep in mind that attribution does not prove the artwork was made by the artist claimed to have made it. However, depending on the authority of the expert it will offer you a ‘high likelihood’ of authenticity.

In this article we wanted to make sure you understand the importance of provenance and how to verify it. Though it’s good to be alert, you shouldn’t lose faith in mankind. All of our art dealers are highly respected professionals with a good eye, who do extensive research on the art they buy (and sell). They can help and guide you along the way.


Should you have any questions about the provenance of an object that was passed on to you, or would like to be assisted by one of our experts when buying an artwork, click here or drop us an email at


Main image: L'Accordéoniste / The Accordion Player, Marc Chagall. On offer at Hans den Hollander Prints

Written by Frederick Gentis on 15 Sep 2018, 09:00 Category EducationalTagged Background information