Having spent over 40 years evaluating art and antiques, I have become well-versed in the realm of fine art but happily, I learn something new every day! As a certified member of the Appraisers Association of America, I have appraised and had many photos sent to me to evaluate all types of fine art, ranging from old masters to contemporary art. The volume keeps increasing, especially since the blossoming of the internet and the digital camera age. As the Senior Expert and Advisor working with Fine Art Investments, one of the questions I am asked most often is “How do I find out whether or not my artwork is valuable?
After you have filled out our artwork “Evaluation Form,” the next step is to email or if necessary to text good, clear photos to us. We promise to reply to you promptly. Our email address is on the “Contact” page of our website. If you are in doubt as to how to send photos by computer or don’t have access to one, call our contact number at 515-226-0606 and we will provide you a way to send them in text messages. Looking at a piece of art on a 4-5 inch cell phone screen is not nearly as desirable or accurate as looking at them on our 24-inch screens, but we should be able to get a start on things if we have your form also, which has a few important questions on it. We’ll figure it out, to make it “painless” and accurate for us all!
If you feel that the fine art which you have inherited, purchased, or are selling for its owner has good value, you must first determine its medium, which requires getting a good look at its surface. In the vast majority of cases, removing a work of art from its frame is not necessary. If you are able to photograph the painting outside – in natural light – you can take great photos without having to worry about “flashback.” As long as there is no glare from sunlight, the photos should be sufficient for us to get a good idea of whether or not the work is a painting, watercolor or print. Please be sure to take several clear, well-lit detailed photos as well, so that we can see the brushstrokes, surface condition, and most importantly, the artist’s signature if any. If the work has a glass or Plexiglass covering, it will eventually need to be temporarily removed so that the work beneath can be properly inspected and photographed.
Remember that for the first round of photos – needed to determine which paintings, etc. have potential value – removal from the frame is not necessary. You can even take photos of glass covered artworks indoors using the flash on your hand-held device by shooting at an angle, just a little bit to the left, right, up or down. In this way, you should be able to avoid both “flashback” and any reflections showing other items in the room, including the photographer!
To remove a work of art from its frame by yourself, carefully place the work on its face on a flat surface so that you can extract the artwork. If the back is covered with paper, carefully cut the paper with a box cutter or straight edge razor at its two sides and across the bottom so that it forms a “flap.” Once you fold the protective paper flap back, you can bend, twist or temporarily remove the nails or fixtures which secure the work. Using “needle nose” pliers or regular pliers, remember to proceed slowly and gently. There may be cardboard or other “padding” behind the actual work on paper. Because some valuable works of art are in their original frames, it is important to secure the nails so that you have not disturbed their original position. If the work is on paper, it may be partially taped or even glued to the surrounding mat. As this matting is often original to the work and often has inscriptions on it, be sure to keep it intact. Once all the nails are out of the way and you have removed any padding, tip the frame back and carefully lift the artwork out from under the frame’s hanger wire.
When your artwork has been removed from its frame, it is ready to be photographed. Today’s cell phones take excellent photos that are easily sent by text or email. Start with one or two overall images of the front as well as one or two images of the backside of the work. Some, but not all framed works will have gallery, auction or “exhibition” labels on their reverse side (on the frame or stretcher or other places) which can add greatly to a work’s provenance and ultimate value. If there is a signature on the work, remember to kindly take a very clear close-up photo of it, as well as any damaged areas that seem to be in-painted (re-painted) or otherwise repaired. When the photography is finished, it is highly advisable to place the artwork back in the frame so it is kept protected. Use masking tape or another lightweight tape, secure the paper “dust cover” flap you worked with to get the artwork out of the frame, so the artwork is once again protected on the back, even if the areas you cut are obvious.
Please realize that there are limits to how many photos one can send in a single email without it being returned to the sender (More than 14 MB total will often get “bounced back” to you). If you are unsure about how large a file your photos comprise, simply send a group of 2 or 3 photos each in multiple, separate emails. Feel free to send as many emails as needed as instructed above. Whether you have a single piece of artwork or an entire collection accumulated or “in the family” for many generations, we will respond to your form and photos promptly with our initial analysis. If you wish to speak with us pending sending photos just give us a call! Thank you for your interest and cooperation. One never knows…we have had instances where the painting which the owner felt had no value at all turned out to be their life-changing “lottery ticket”!