3 Things to Look for at the Back of a Painting


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1. Labels

Most galleries will label the artworks they buy and sell. These labels can which galleries have owned the painting and, if you're lucky, the year they bought it. A reputable gallery name can be great for provenance and add to a work's value. Exhibition labels are also important to look for. An exhibition label can also lead us to original reviews, allowing us to see how a painting was first received and a good addition to catalogue notes.

2. Chalk Marks and Barcodes

When trying to learn more about a painting, chalk marks help trace a work's journey through the big auction houses. Sotheby's has always used yellow chalk to mark pictures, which can offer some clues about a work's history, and Christie's has used stencil marks, which allow you to see who has bought and owned a work over the course of its history. Many of these marks date right back to their very first consignment. These marks are a fascinating insight into previous owners and very likely add value to the artwork.

3. Possible Signs of Restoration

The lining at the back of a painting is central to the work's condition; unlike the front of a piece, the back of a work will often allow you to see whether it's been lined or not. You can tell a picture has been lined if there is another canvas mounted on the back of it. It's a good indication that a work has been restored, which can be good or bad. Essentially, restoration indicates that the piece has been damaged at some point and restored; the extent of such damage requires further investigation. Sometimes a work is lined because it's had a lot of work done; sometimes, a lining is added just to stabilize the work, or in response to a very minute level of damage.


About the Author:

Madelaine D'Angelo is the Founder and CEO of Arthena, the world's first crowdfunding platform for Art Investment. Madelaine hold's her Masters from Harvard University and is a expert in Art + Tech. Follow Madelaine D'Angelo on Twitter: @arthenaart