Provenance Research

Step 2 in Mearto’s fine art authentication process.


Provenance Research

What is provenance research?

Provenance research is the important task of tracing your work of art all the way back to the artist who created it. The goal is to draw an uninterrupted timeline from the date of creation to the date that you acquired it, including every sale / purchase with an identification of the owner and exhibition date along the way.

Why is provenance so important?

If you want to sell a work of art through a major auction house or gallery, one of the first questions you will be asked is about the item’s provenance. On its own, well-documented provenance can confirm the authenticity of an artwork. This is not the case for comparative analysis and scientific analysis. However, over the course of time, many records can be lost and information forgotten as a work of art passes from one generation to the next. Undocumented gaps in an artwork’s history provide opportunity for forgery and falsification of records, so it is necessary to fill in those gaps if you want to prove that your work of art is authentic.

Why not just start with provenance research?

If you have very little information about the provenance of your artwork, locating all of the pieces can be a time-consuming (and expensive!) process. Provenance research can also sometimes lead to a dead-end, an unfortunate result that cannot be predicted in advance. Therefore, we usually recommend starting the authentication process with comparative analysis, to assess the likelihood of authenticity before investing in a detailed investigation.

How is provenance research performed?

Provenance research consists of diligently poring through volumes of old sale records, exhibition catalogues and legal documents. Most major auction houses have only digitized their records since the late 1990s, so this kind of research requires access to and intimate knowledge of archives and specialized art libraries. A creative problem-solving approach and the ability to read in foreign languages are also often necessary.

What kind of archival access do Mearto’s provenance researchers have?

We have a network of skilled provenance researchers based at the finest museum libraries in the United States and Europe, who enjoy unrestricted access to a wide range of national libraries and archives in their respective countries. If you live in Tennessee, but need records from an auction that took place in Paris in the early 1900s, we can find them for you!

How much does provenance research cost?

Provenance research is billed as an hourly rate with a minimum retainer based your needs and the estimated number of hours required. Our hourly rate is not fixed, so that we can offer some flexibility in pricing. We prepare a personalized research proposal for each project. Please contact [email protected]   for more information.

How are the research findings presented?

As previously stated, provenance research is billed as a function of hours. We provide a full bibliography of resources consulted and, when possible, proof of archival access. We also offer a detailed summary report that describes our research process and presents any findings relevant to the provenance of your artwork.

Our Techniques

Comparative Analysis

A side-by-side comparison of your work of art to others that have been positively attributed to the artist in question. We form a professional option based on careful consideration of many factors related to the artist's documented technique and stylistic preferences.

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Provenance Research

The important task of tracing your work of art all the way back to the artist who created it. We search the world’s top libraries and archives to fill in the missing pieces of your artwork’s history with records of sale and exhibition, legal documents and old photographs.

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Scientific Analysis

The use of special technology to look beneath the surface of a work of art and study the materials that were used to create it. We look for attribution clues with the aid of advanced imaging, and can accurately date a work of art by testing pigment and other material samples.

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