"Badlands" by Jim Davies

How to Tell if Your Picture is Original or a Reproduction

AY Jackson paintings are widely reproduced as prints

Have you ever bought a painting or print and wondered if it was an original or a reproduction? You might have come across a work of art at a garage sale or in a dusty antique shop and hoped that you had found something that no one else recognized as valuable. You excitedly went home and did your research online based on the artist’s signature and found that the artist was well known and that the work he or she did is quite valuable. Pay Dirt!

Not so fast. Before you start counting how you will spend your new-found windfall, find out if what you own is an actual work of art or a reproduction. Here are four ways:

 #1: Any antique dealer who wants to stay in business has learned to do research on the items they sell. Even if the shop is messy and dirty and it doesn’t appear that the owner knows anything about what they have, don’t be fooled. Some dealers keep their shops looking like that on purpose so that it makes people think that they are “discovering” something valuable.

 #2: Buy yourself a jeweller’s loupe that will magnify an object at minimum 10 times (10X). Hold the loupe as close to the surface of the picture as possible. If the piece is obscured by glass and is difficult to see, remove the picture from its frame. Even if you see the picture is on canvas, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a painting – yet.

Session 10

anglowarmuseum.com Magnified detail of a photographic reproduction.
Magnified detail of a photographic reproduction.

The first thing that tells you whether you have an original or reproduction is if you can see thousands of little dots (see the picture shown above) under magnification. This tells you right away that the item is a photographic reproduction, not an original work of art. It’s the first “litmus” test.

 #3: You can have an original print. This means that the hand of the artist was involved in its conception and production. If this is the case, you may still see those dots but the artist will have signed the print and numbered it. For example 6/35 means that this print was the sixth one of a total production of 35 prints. But you can still have a reproduction of an original print. How to tell? Use your loupe and look for the dots covering the artists signature. If the signature is made up of little dots then it’s a photographic reproduction.

Prints on canvas can be embellished by hand making it hard to tell a reproduction from an original. Image from protocolsnow.com
Prints on canvas can be embellished by hand making it hard to tell a reproduction from an original. Image from protocolsnow.com

If the artist’s signature is original, then do some research to determine what value that artist’s prints are worth. A Picasso “print” would still be worth a lot of money… but beware, there are a lot of fake ‘original prints’ out there. Antique “prints” and reproductions may be worth money but it really depends on the market, age, rarity, condition and all the other criteria that make up value in objects.

#4: Using magnification, look at the directions of the paint stroke.Is the stroke vertical when it should be horizontal? Does it make sense? Some prints can look very authentic because there are people who do nothing all day but to add real paint strokes helter-skelter over prints.Again, does the location of the streak of pigment make sense?

If going to flea markets and antique shops is something you love to do, hoping you’ll find a diamond that everyone overlooked, it helps to be aware of what you’re looking at.

2 thoughts on “How to Tell if Your Picture is Original or a Reproduction

  1. Johanne,
    Can you tell if a photo is from the original negative with a jewelers loupe. Bought photos for investment purposes. Some not signed by photog, by I know they were from original neg. Need to sell as authentic. Thanks

    1. Thomas: That’s a very good question and not one I can readily answer. If it were me I would say the photo was taken from the original negative – if you have a copy of the negative you could show the image of the negative. As long as the new image is similar to the intended size of the original, where the image does not begin to break down (like pixelation on a computer image) it would be difficult to tell the difference HOWEVER the paper on which the photo is exposed would be different. I think I would speak to a person who does developing of photos themselves. Good luck.

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