Art Appraisals in the Computer Age
Many people vision an art appraiser examining a painting with a magnifying glass, stroking their white beard and pronouncing it real or fake based on what they feel. This is the old fashion method, unfortunately still practiced by many little art appraisers. Today, the sophisticated collector demands more than just some art appraiser’s “considered opinion”. They want an art appraiser using the most modern computer technology. They want 21st century answers as to why something is real or why it is fake.
The modern art appraiser uses powerful software programs to analyze a painting. These new art appraisers use refined algorithms to test for anomalies in the artist’s style that are uniquely theirs. Some of these are patterns of paint application (e.g. wet over dry) paint strokes consistently at a certain angle (Degas used 45 °) or color harmonies (Monet used warm colors over cool). Modern software measures a painting’s style and then compare it to several artists at a time in the period to see if there are consistencies in the painting that show up in one particular artist. One artist, like Renoir, emphasizes certain colors, like pink and cobalt blue, a usual number of times, ignoring other colors like black altogether. Another artist, Van Gogh, painted a certain theme like alienation and loneliness a usual number of times, ignoring happiness and contentment. The modern computer program reads this and matches your painting attributes to all known artists in the period. They search for patterns like these in twelve different areas.
After the computer program suggests who did the work, the scientist steps in. Now the lab tests the wood stretcher and tells you the year the tree it came from was cut down. It tells you if it is American or European wood. If the wood came from a tree cut down after the artist’s death, the painting has got problems.
Just like a doctor must see a patient’s lab reports, x-rays, and personal observations before making determination, the 21st century art appraiser does the same. Each report provides a piece of the puzzle, but no one piece gives the complete answer. It is only when all the reports are compared in an Excel-type format and analyzed by the art appraiser and the computer staff, does a definitive answer emerge.
Today’s collectors are much more wary than they were three years ago. There have been so many scandals, like the cruise ship art scam, that they want hard scientific facts before they purchase. Any collector that hopes to sell a painting or drawing for serious money hires a modern art appraiser to document it.
The cheapest art appraiser never is the best. How can any art appraiser pour over all data about an artist for a few dollars? How do collectors expect insurance companies to pay claims without proper documentation? How do donors expect the IRS to accept generous donations without appraisals to backup value and authenticity? The IRS agent says “Yes, it may be worth that if it was real but was it real?”
When hiring an art appraiser, always ask yourself “do I need an old fashioned art appraiser or do I need a modern art appraiser?” If your painting was done by grandma and you just need it for insurance, the former art appraiser will do just fine. If Uncle Willie was in Paris in the 1920’s and brought back a painting signed Picasso, you need a modern art appraiser armed with the best, modern sophisticated technology (computer and scientific). You don’t need an idiot art appraiser to tell you it is a fake, when it was a seldom seen unusual variation.
Not all art appraisers are the same. For instance, we’re great on paintings and antiques but lousy on musical instruments and cars. The little art appraiser, who doesn’t ride the new technological wave, is desperate for work. They tell you they’re an expert on everything. Ask them about their computer algorithms, what year titanium white paint was first used and rate wood- cell deteriorate. Don’t be a naive collector.
We’re the only art appraiser with over 45 years experience, modern computer programs and a scientific lab. Choose your art appraiser wisely. Art appraisers are expensive, but can you afford to have the wrong value or wrong authentication? A good art appraiser doesn’t cost, it pays.
Why not give our office a call? Our art appraisers are glad to discuss what we can do and what we can’t. We’ll even try and work out a budget for you in relation to your ability and the painting’s expected value. At Chicago Appraiser’s Association, “It’s you we value most“.