What to look for

What to Look for in a Work of Art

The key issues to consider when weighing a potential purchase are authenticity, quality, rarity, condition, provenance and value. No one of these points is sufficient to warrant overlooking the others. All factors should figure in the decision, even if allowances are made in special cases.


Dealers who represent artists or their estates automatically have access to primary source information that can be used to authenticate works. A dealer with an extensive history of handling a specific artist’s work will also build up an archive of information as well as a body of experience that can help resolve questions of authorship and title.


Judgments of quality depend on knowledge and connoisseurship. ADAA dealers are skilled at assessing the relative aesthetic merits of a given work, evaluating it both within the larger context of art history and within the specific context of the artist’s oeuvre.


Rarity tends to enhance value. The rarity of a given work is determined by how many similar examples exist and how frequently such works become available. Even in the contemporary world, where artists are still living, some pieces can be much harder to get than others. By understanding a specific artist’s oeuvre and by tracking the market, a CINOA affiliated dealer is ideally poised to recognize the rarity of works that come up for sale.


The condition of a work is important. Because dealers see a great many works in the areas they represent, they are uniquely qualified to assess the significance of conservation or repairs. With some artists or types of work, it may be impossible to find a piece in pristine condition. A CINOA affiliated dealer can interpret the importance of condition in the context of an artist’s oeuvre and make a considered judgment about the impact of condition on a given work’s value. In addition to counseling on nuances of condition, a dealer can advise on restoration or conservation. Dealers familiar with the work of a particular artist or period can recommend a restorer with pertinent experience and provide invaluable information regarding the techniques and materials used by the artist.

Provenance, Publication and Exhibition History

A good provenance can help establish authenticity, art-historical importance and title. Similarly, inclusion in significant publications or exhibitions may enhance a work’s pedigree by documenting it and certifying scholarly approval. However, the absence of a complete provenance need not be a cause for alarm. Again, a CINOA affiliated dealer can help evaluate a specific provenance to determine its legitimacy and significance. In fact, the inclusion of an important dealer in the history of a work can significantly augment its provenance.


Art chosen solely on the basis of price will yield a mediocre collection that does not necessarily hold its value on resale. It is collections formed with passion and intelligence that stand the test of time, both aesthetically and monetarily. Collectors should be wary of apparent bargains and promises of future gains. Although no one can predict the future, a CINOA affiliated dealers are able to place current values in perspective.

[This information comes from the ADAA website with their permission.]