The world of collecting fine art, when it comes to coveted artists such as Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and the like, is a high stakes game that often involves dissenting opinions and controversy.
It’s bad enough that the art world is full of unscrupulous forgers who happen to be masterfully skilled at creating fake paintings and sculpture and passing them off as real. But it’s also troubling that it’s very difficult to find a reputable art expert who will authenticate a piece as being an original from a famous artist.
Do I think that part of the problem stems from a certain snobbish attitude that there’s no way an authentic piece from a world-renowned artist could be found in Arizona? Absolutely. For years, I have argued that many people move here from other parts of the country – with their fine art!
But can I blame these art experts for being wary after litigation costs have skyrocketed? No, and it’s no wonder so many art foundations have ceased authenticating art all together.
As a full-service auction house that primarily deals with auctioning full estates, you can imagine the volume of fine art that comes through our facility. We’ve gotten pretty good at spotting fakes and forgeries, but when we’re not sure, we’ll seek out an expert opinion. Recently, we had two paintings that we believed to be authentic, and here’s how it worked out:
In August 2019, we auctioned a Thomas Moran painting with very strong provenance. Because we could not find an expert who would authenticate it, we listed it as “attributed to Thomas Moran.”
There were many factors that led me to believe it was an original painting. The framed oil painting, “King’s Canyon,” was a family heirloom for 60 years. It was first purchased by Hugh Meinhardt in 1959 from the Paul Metcalf Art Gallery in Los Angeles and shipped to Quincy, Illinois. We could trace its ownership, and the original tag from the Paul Metcalf Gallery was still attached to the back of the painting. In addition, the painting, age of canvas, signature and overall construction of the frame look period. Bidding opened at $25,000, and the painting hammered at $50,000, but I believe if an expert had chimed in to verify its authenticity, the painting could have sold for much more.
Last month, we had a similar challenge when we auctioned a Keith Haring painting. In this case, we found a renowned forensic document examiner and an experienced expert witness, Bart Baggett, to examine the handwriting and signature on the back of the painting. Mr. Baggett provided EJ’s with his professional expert written opinion that the handwriting was by the hand of Keith Haring. Bidding opened at $50,000 and the painting sold for $75,000.
There are so many factors that affect the sale of a piece of fine art. Whether you’re buying or selling, be sure to do your due diligence in researching the artist and examining the piece so that you are comfortable with your opinion of the art’s worth.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale.