The Proof is in the Provenance

The Proof is in the Provenance

As you read our blog posts please keep in mind that we are neophyte, junkyard boys, if you will, and not antique or fine art appraisers.

We purchase with our eye. If an object has presence, value and appropriate scale we purchase it, even if we don’t necessarily know what it is. In fact, it’s not uncommon for customers to fill us in about pieces we have on the floor: what something was used for or what it’s called. The learning never ends.

Much of what we acquire is antique, 100+ years; or vintage, under 100 years old. Only rarely do we acquire investment objects with a verifiable provenance. When folks come into one of our shops they like to know a piece’s story. We share with them where we acquired it and what we think it is. We warrant nothing to be more than it appears and we tell folks to “buy with the eye” and with the object’s usefulness in mind, and not to purchase it for any other reason.   

Sometimes a seller will share with us the romantic story behind a piece that catches our eye. We’ve learned to take these stories with a grain of salt unless it can be proven.  We’re happy to pass the tale along to our own customers, but always with the caveat that it could be total bullsh_t. We have no way of verifying – no provenance. The story is never reflected in the price of the piece.

Because there’s a lot of confusion regarding the nature of authenticity, I offer the following definition of the term provenance:

The bastard cousin of provenance is the “Certificate of Authenticity” (COA) which is often a meaningless attempt to make something appear more valuable than it actually is. In truth it does not increase the value of anything. It is my understanding that a COA is laughed at in the fine art community and discarded out of hand.

Provenance, however, is a different story. Here’s an example from our experience:

Early in our career we had the honor of procuring, with provenance, a Pierre-August Renoir lithograph, Children Playing Ball, with Renoir’s thumb print on the bottom right corner.  

David Steadman of the Chrysler Museum authenticated the letter of provenance and verified that the work was an original Renoir. (The Chrysler Museum owns a companion.)  The letter of provenance provided an unbroken chain documenting each time the artwork was sold and to whom it went.

This lithograph was originally purchased from Renior by a member of the Romanov family. It also came with two magnificent frames owned by the Romanovs; one for their Moscow residence and one for their Paris residence.

David Steadman was very gracious to us; he took the time to share with us a bit of the basics regarding fine art and the value of a verifiable provenance.

Please see my earlier blog regarding Julia and Paul Child’s dining tables and chairs.

Found Objects Ltd.