The Art of Documentation With Masterworks

Recently, I was browsing around one of the major reseller websites - well, the major reseller website - in their fine art category, when I happened across two individuals selling two masterworks: one selling "a long-lost" Van Gogh painting for $13,000,000.00; and, the other selling a Rembrandt painting for $100,000.00.

The Van Gogh is a beautiful landscape, painted between 1880-1889. "Painted during the final days of the artist's life and possibly even his last painting," as the seller says.

The Rembrandt is a beautiful oil, biblical genre, beautiful use of chiaroscuro, signed and dated Rembrandt 1631.

To the credit of both, the seller of the Van Gogh, goes on to say, the "painting is sold with authenticity guaranteed to the buyer's satisfaction" In other words the buyer has "seven days money back".

And the seller of the Rembrandt continues by saying, "the piece was being sold as "in the manner of, as it was not authenticated"; however, the seller did preface the above by writing, "worth...time to spend and trace to authentication as this is an original piece".

Wouldn't it be wonderful if one or the other (or both for that matter) turn out to be real. Discoveries in the art world do not happen all the time, but they do happen.

But let's put this in perspective, Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet, painted in 1880, sold in 1990 for $82.5 million. (A record price for any painting at the time.)

In 2009, a Rembrandt painting, Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo, painted in 1658, sold at auction for $33.2 million.

Am I missing something? I do not think I am. On the contrary, it is the sellers who are missing something. What they are missing is simply, documentation in the cited literature or proof of authorship.

When you think about the asking price by both sellers, considering today's market value, that would be quite the windfall for the buyer.

So, what's the problem? Well, the problem is, quite simply, both pieces of art are not documented or cited in the literature. Without being included in a catalogue raisonne, which is an exhaustive study of an artist's oeuvre or body of work in a particular medium, authentication becomes harder to prove.

I am not saying that both masterworks are not representative of period pieces in the artists' oeuvre. Nor am I saying that they are not authentic. All I am saying is plain and simple: They are not documented. They are not cited in the literature. They are not included in a catalogue raisonne.

Therefore, with no proof of authorship, both pieces of art should be the problems of someone else and not yours.

In a former life, B. Mathew Are was a research director for a major retail gallery. It is here that he learned the importance of documentation with masterworks and the significance of Albrecht Durer in art history: that every artist whoever understood the importance of prints, owes their very existence to an artist who lived over five hundred years ago. Hence the name Durerpost. Please feel free to visit us at

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