How to Research a Old Painting

Old paintings can be found in a myriad of places, from antique store treasures to attics. Some have only sentimental value, while others are worth a great deal of money. Determining the value of an old painting takes time and, sometimes, even determination.

Determining the Provenance of an Old Painting

  • Find out the origins, or provenance, of the painting. If your work came from an art gallery or antique store, you could ask the gallery curator or store owner to supply that data to you as part of the sale. If the painting is a family heirloom or a gift from a friend, talk to that person about where he obtained the painting. If the information is scant or unknown, then start your investigation by first looking at the signature. Who the artist was may illuminate where it came from. For instance, some artists are associated with certain parts of the country. As an example, Georgia O'Keefe's paintings of flowers and animal bones are associated with the Southwestern United States, where she lived during part of her life.
  • Determine the type of style used. Like any art form, certain styles were popular at certain times in the history of art. Knowing if your painting is from the Expressionist or Impressionist era will help to determine who may have created it and when. Additionally, seeking out an expert at a local fine art museum or antique store specializing in old paintings may be useful.
  • Record all the information you learn by printing, legally copying, or writing it legibly and keep it in a safe place. If you have any certified or signed documents from an art dealer or specialist you have contacted, include this as well. All this data will be used to determine the value of the work, as indicated by the Appraisers Association of America. The provenance is important, as value is relative when it comes to art--as mentioned by "Antiques Road Show" appraisers. For instance, a painting of your grandmother's Tabby cat will be of minimal value compared to a picture of one of the Hemingway cats of Key West.


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