Can a Painting Be Valuable If It is Not Original?

Recently, we had a consignor come into the auction house with what he thought was an original Peter Max painting. His father-in-law gave it to him, and after researching the artist, he was sure we could sell it for him at auction for at least $100,000.

While original paintings by Peter Max can command several thousand dollars at auction, I thanked him for coming in, and explained that we needed to examine the piece to make sure it was authentic and assess its value. In the end, the painting ended up being a serigraph, which is a print produced by silkscreen. While we didn’t auction it, we estimated its value to be between $3,000 and $5,000.

Unfortunately, this scenario happens frequently. Last year, we probably had at least several dozen conversations with potential consignors regarding the fact that their paintings were not original or worth what they thought it was.

Part of the problem is that people don’t realize that technology has advanced to the point that artists can create giclees and lithographs that look almost identical to the original painting. Here are some of the key differences:

When a painting is original, it is the only piece made by the artist. An artist can paint two very similar paintings of the same subject at the same time, but they will not be exact duplicates. Original paintings tend to do well at auction, but not always. Much depends on the artist’s name, the condition of the painting, the provenance, auction history results of similar pieces created by the artist, and market demand.

Giclees originated in the early 1980s and have become more popular with artists, primarily because of their exceptional quality and because the printers that create them can do so on demand. Giclee is actually a French word for spray or spurting ink, and it is done with a digital scan of the original painting that can be output on several surfaces, such as paper or canvas, using a high-quality inkjet printer. No, your Brother printer at your desk won’t do the trick. Giclees can do well at auction. Recently, we sold a Michael Godard gilcee at auction for $800.

A less expensive option for artists is lithographs. These are the most common type of reproductions and are printed in mass quantities through a process known as offset printing. Because of this, color matching to the original is also more difficult. We recently sold a Peter Max lithograph for $650. Had it been an original, it could have realized thousands of dollars.

There are many other mediums, such as etchings, monoprints and more. Other factors affecting value include whether the piece is signed, if it is part of a limited edition, if it is a lifetime impression, meaning that it was created during the artist’s lifetime, and more.

As you can imagine, technology has also made it easy for sneaky thieves to create excellent forgeries. It’s best to have an art expert verify authenticity and the age of artwork or have an appraiser review it before you buy or sell a piece, especially if you believe it’s an original.