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What Does an Art Appraiser Do?

Though considered little more than illustrations by art critics in his time, Norman Rockwell's paintings, such as those in The Four Freedoms series, have had their value reevaluated by modern art appraisers.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Image By: Keijo Knutas
  • Last Modified Date: 01 July 2014
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An art appraiser looks at works of art to determine their value. This is not an authentication to determine if the artwork is original; it may be necessary to work with both an authenticator and an appraiser. There are a number of reasons to request an evaluation of art, including preparing for auction or sale, documenting information for insurance purposes, or preparing to distribute an estate or divorce settlement. Many appraisers belong to professional organizations that set standards for their members and provide a member lookup function for members of the public who need their services.

When clients approach an art appraiser, the appraiser may conduct a brief interview to get information on the background of the piece. If an authenticator has examined the artwork, the appraiser can ask for that documentation, along with the results of previous appraisals, if any were conducted. All of this material will be supportive for the final valuation.

In a detailed inspection, the art appraiser can take pictures, measure the artwork, and describe it for documentation purposes. Descriptions discuss the materials used, the condition of the work, and the general appearance. They can be useful not only to show that that the appraiser examined the work, but also for documentation; in the event the art is stolen, for example, detailed descriptions of flaws and other unique findings can help owners prove that a piece is theirs.

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After the examination, the art appraiser may arrive at a rough estimate, and can conduct some research to confirm it. This can include reviewing the existing documentation. Appraisers tend to focus on a specific type or era of art, and have a large library of experience and references to draw upon. For example, an art appraiser might be primarily experienced with American art produced after 1900. This person might not be able to evaluate a Renaissance painting accurately, but could look at photographs from the 1930s and provide information about their value and quality.

The nature of documentation produced can depend on the reason for appraisal. Insurance companies may request that an art appraiser use their standardized forms or answer a series of questions about the work. Auction houses and agents placing art for sale may have their own paperwork, along with a requirement that the work be authenticated. Authentication can include documentation on the provenance to confirm that the owner has a free and clear title and the right to sell.

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