Chapter 55. The Case of Dubious Due Diligence
In the recent Globe and Mail article eBay Takes On Counterfeiters With New Authentication Program, Spencer Soper describes eBays new marketing tool. To prevent the sale of counterfeit products on its online auction site, various brand experts will authenticate luxury items with a pledge by eBay that the sale will be nullified if the item is found to be a fake.
One concern is qualifying the expertise of the brand expert. How well informed is the brand expert who will determine authenticity? For luxury brand items such as designer accessories, including handbags, shoes or perfume, the manufacturer will be the legitimate source to make a declaration of genuineness. For other luxury items, such as Modernist paintings, due diligence on the part of the informed expert is crucial to establishing authenticity.
Recently, I was asked by a client to review a certificate of authenticity and the appraisal certificate for an Anders Zorn painting and offer a professional opinion about the appropriateness of the appraisers findings. The certificate of authenticity, dated 2009, described the painting as an original gouache on paper with the abstract forms and colours attributed to the Swedish painter Anders Zorn (18601920). The piece, measuring 11x12 inches, was signed Jorn in the lower right corner.
The appraisal certificate accurately described the painting and placed the replacement value between $35,000 to $40,000 USD.
However, I noted, its unusual for a painting bearing a signature to be described as attributed to, as it generally suggests that the painting is by a named artist, but unsigned. The fact that this painting was attributed to Anders Zorn by the appraiser suggests that, stylistically, it is not representative of works Zorn is best known for. Zorn was a classically trained painter who is best known for his realistic figurative works, which include full-length portraits, depictions of the female nude and the landscape.
This painting, however, is stylistically very similar to the work of Cobra artist Asger Jorn, and is signed Jorn in the lower right. Danish painter Asger Jorn (19141973) is best known for his paintings, lithographs and etchings, where he experimented with spontaneous line and semi-figurative representation, which are two fundamental aspects of the distinctive Cobra visual language.
The appraiser/authenticator, in this case, was lacking in due diligence and appears to have confused the works of Anders Zorn with those of Asger Jorn. Presumably, the appraiser/authenticator read the signature as Zorn, but did not investigate further to confirm the similarities of style, subject matter and composition between this image and the images that Anders Zorn is best known for.
The irony is that, although misattributed to Anders Zorn, this painting is probably by Asger Jorn, and is probably worth the appraised value.