In 2006, my client purchased a painting entitled Trapper Returning at Sunset at an auction house, as a work attributed to Cornelius Krieghoff. The auction house may have, without due diligence, offered the work as an attributed to to avoid any liability. The same painting appears to have been sold some thirty years earlier by Sotheby Parke-Bernet (Canada) Ltd. as a signed work by Cornelius Krieghoff, meaning that in the best judgement of the listing auction house, it was a work by Krieghoff. About 10 years ago, what appears to have been the same painting was sold at Joyner Waddington's Canadian Fine Art and was listed in their catalogue as a Krieghoff.
Cornelius Krieghoff, Trapper Returning at Sunset (c. 1860), oil on canvas, 11 x 9 1/4 inches
Most fine art auction houses publish interpretations, under their terms and conditions, as to what is meant by such terms as: attributed to, studio of, circle of, and state that they are provided for your guidance. The opinion offered by an auction house is based on their judgement and is not always accurate, however, the public perception still remains that if the auction house declares that a painting is in our best judgement a genuine work, then indeed it must be so.
The term best judgement is used by major auction houses to declare that a painting is by the named artist, and is the most precise determination of authorship the auction house can offer. This interpretation encourages a premise that the purchaser, when selling the painting, can offer as a declaration of a level of genuineness, the fact that he purchased the work from an auction house contingent upon how it was described in the catalogue.
It is not unreasonable to assume that this perception perpetuates a culture of accepted practice in the marketplace as a means of encouraging commerce. The converse is also perceived as being true, in that if the auction house declares a painting to be attributed to, then it is indeed of lesser quality and therefore commands less value than a work by the named artist.
The term attributed to has different meanings when used by different art auction houses. Heffel Fine Art Auction House uses the term to describe a work as executed in whole or in part by the named artist. Presumably this means the work may be partly or completely painted by the artist. This is a precise definition meant to include works that may have undergone undetermined restoration or conservation over the years (presumably as the result of damage or deterioration) by someone other than the artist. It obviously does not give any indication as to how much of the painting is or is not by the named artist. Therefore, this single category appears to include both indicators of authorship.
Sothebys takes a more art historical stylistic approach by using the phrase in our opinion, on the basis of style, the work can be ascribed to the named artist. This term suggests precision and unambiguity. It confidently defers to the fact that it is an opinion, however it alludes to the fact that a stylistic investigation has been made and a reasonably credible conclusion reached. In other words, there is a more certain indication that due diligence has been performed.
Fortunately, my clients Krieghoff has recently been verified by the recognized authority on Cornelius Krieghoff as being by the named artist, and dating from about 1860.
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