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Old, Historic Paintings: Tips on How to Identify Old Paintings by Looking at the Back Side

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Published on Jan 24, 2016

Before you purchase any old painting you need to view this video. Mark Sublette a leading art dealer shares his 25 years of experience to help collectors understanding the subtle details that can help you avoid mistakes when collection art.

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Old, Historic Paintings: Tips on How to Identify Old Paintings by Looking at the Back Side

I want to teach you something today that most dealers don't even know, and apparently a lot of art patrons don't either. This is a painting that I bought at an art auction, and on this occasion there was at least a thousand people at this auction. It was mainly staff, museum directors, there was even a major auction house at this place, and they had this listed in the silent auction as a copy as a reproduction, and it was basically nothing to buy.

Now, I recognized immediately this was not the case, and how did I do that? From the back the back of the painting. It is as important as the front of the painting (and) here's the reason why. When they looked at this and brought it in and evaluated, it they assumed it had to be a new painting. The canvas is white and if you look on the edges it has staples. Both things are obviously very contemporary but that's only a small portion of the real story.

The real story (is) you have to go a little deeper and that allows you to look at the overall aspect of the back. Remember, the back of the painting is as important as the front. So one of the things you'll notice is the color of the wood. This color is very dark brown; it was oxidized over many, many years. In fact, this painter – his name is W Brian. He died in 1920, so this painting has to be at least a hundred years old.

You'll notice the keys are very dark; these are early keys. One of the other things you'll notice and this is very important, is you can see a line right here. This line of whiter wood next to the darker wood with the little holes that goes around the entire painting (and that) tells the actual story. And here's the story: the painting has been relined.

Now, relining an old painting costs a lot of money, so right off the bat you know it was worth something to someone to spend at least a few hundred to even a thousand dollars to have the piece saved. They reline these pieces because it allows the crackalure or the cracking of the painting to be stabilized. So, that's why you see the white canvas and you see the staples.

Now, if you look on the front of the painting, you will see this mark right here, and in this area really was a tip-off to me. That's a concussion mark and somewhere along the line it got hit. You can see the little circular round-type crackalure, and this is probably one of the reasons that they wanted to line the historic painting.

Also, you can see this is an older frame; it's an okay frame but you can tell it's gelded and it's hand-carved, and if you look at the painting you can see that it has texture and not texture like you would see in a print or jaclay, you actually have texture.

Now, when I went to look at this painting; it's on the easel marked as jaclay reproduction. I immediately went to the back of the painting to see what was going on, because it looked perfectly fine to me and then that's when the story revealed itself it. It was obviously relined (and) somebody didn't recognize it, and all the people that had gone through and looked at it all passed it up.

Partly, they probably passed it up because it said “jaclay or reproduction” and they just assumed it was that and they're not going to be interested. But you always have to be if you're going to be a good art dealer. You have to look deeper; you have to look for what's really the true story, and if you want to know the true story, always look at the back of the historic painting.

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