As a fine art appraiser, I am on occasion obliged to inform clients of that which they might not wish to hear. Frequently such issues revolve around questions of authenticity or of misunderstandings (either contrived or accidental) with regard to the actual identity of an artwork.
Purchase decisions, as well as value and investment decisions, are often made by a prospective client only with information supplied by a gallery owner or gallery staff. Clients assume that what they believe they are purchasing, and what they are actually buying, is indeed the same thing. Unfortunately this is not always the case, often through no deliberate act of deception on the part of the gallery or through the purchaser's inexperience.
Such was the case recently when doing an appraisal for replacement cost for insurance purposes. I was obliged to inform a client that a numbered lithograph entitled La Révolution, which bore a signature in pencil by Marc Chagall was not the original Chagall lithograph her husband had understood he was buying for my client's anniversary gift. Needless to say, upon hearing this my client became quite upset.
La Révolution after Marc Chagall, lithograph
During my inspection of the artwork, I confirmed that it indeed was a multi-coloured lithograph, signed in the plate lower right, Marc Chagall, and also signed in pencil lower right, outside the image, Marc Chagall. It was numbered and editioned 5/150 lower left, outside the image, in pencil. Printed in the plate in capital letters lower left, were the words, D'APRES MARC CHAGALL-REVOLUTION (1933-1950) CHARLES SORLIER GRAV.
This indicated that the artwork was a lithograph made by Charles Sorlier under the direction of, and after an image by, Marc Chagall. It is for this reason that the words, which translate as "after Marc Chagall", had been printed in the lower left hand corner of the image so as to distinguish this lithograph from an original Marc Chagall lithograph.
The word "after" (d'aprés) indicates that this image is from, copied or interpreted (in this case by Charles Sorlier) from another image by Marc Chagall. The resultant new image is not identical to the image on which it is based due to technical processes inherent in the lithographic reproduction process. This lithograph is catalogued under lithographs engraved by Charles Sorlier under Marc Chagall's direction and is so identified as CS9 Revolution. The image is based on a 1937 oil on canvas painting by Marc Chagall entitled La Révolution.
The gallery invoice listed the work as an original Marc Chagall and it was priced accordingly. Did the gallery intentionally mislead the customer? Did the gallery truly believe that they were selling an original lithograph by Marc Chagall? Should the buyer be entitled to all or part of his money back? Caveat emptor.
Next: The Case of the Political Portraitist