How to Tell Whether a Painting is an Original, Print, or Reproduction

For more than four decades, Leigh Keno, founder of Keno Auctions and an expert appraiser on Antiques Roadshow, has been involved in the arts and antiques world. The former vice president of Appraisals at Christie’s Auction House, Leigh Keno possesses extensive experience with American and European decorative and fine art and has appraised, auctioned, and advised on on a huge range of paintings over the course of his long career.

Individuals who enjoy purchasing original paintings often struggle with figuring out which paintings are real and which are fakes. The following are a few ways Leigh Keno recommends that people can quickly determine whether a painting is an original verses being a print or reproduction:

Know the Artist

Prior to buying an artist’s work, become familiar with their oeuvre. This includes examining their pieces for stylistic patterns, analyzing the signatures, and checking the colors that were available when the painting was made. A simple internet search is the natural first step in this process. If anything looks unusual, then the work may need to be examined closely by an expert. It might be a reproduction or print. Prints have a clean straight edge, often created by the plate used to create the work.

Use a Magnifying Glass

Looking at the surface of a painting with a magnifying glass is one of the best ways to spot a print. Often a high quality cell phone can take photos which reveal a great deal, especially when using different “filters”. In many cases, prints are made up of tiny colored dots that are arranged in a repeating pattern throughout the painting. Potential buyers can often see this with a magnifying glass, unless they are looking at a Giclée work, which is a reproduction of an existing work, often made from a high-resolution photograph which is then painted upon by an artist to simulate the impasto technique (texture of building thick layers of paint to add a three-dimensional effect).

Turn the Painting Over

By turning the painting over, potential buyers can analyze the material used to create the painting. Often, a painting retains its original stretcher, which can be examined as it relates to the canvas which it supports. Certain materials -such as the canvas itself- have a specific look and feel and may provide individuals with an idea of a painting’s age. Leigh Keno recalls hearing of a Masterpiece by the 19th century painter Martin Johnson Heade and flew immediately to Texas to examine it. Upon carefully flipping over the multimillion dollar find, which the owner paid 25 dollars for, Keno saw the label of Heade’s favorite (Philadelphia) framer, as well as the original long wire and tassel from which the painting was hung when new — a very good clue in determining the work’s authenticity.

Leigh Keno — Decorative Arts Appraiser and Vintage Car Enthusiast

Leigh Keno — Decorative Arts Appraiser and Vintage Car Enthusiast