How to Tell if a Canvas Painting is Original?

Randy Charles
Randy Charles
Professional Painter

Hi, I’m Randy Charles, the creator and chief editor of this site Paintcentric. I’m a businessman now by profession, but I used to work as...Read more

You have found this amazing canvas painting at a yard sale or estate sale for a great price.  Just looking at it, you are unsure if it is an original or a reproduction.  Do you want to take the chance it is real or pass on it?  The age-old question of is it real or fake needs to be answered first.

So, how to tell if a canvas painting is original.  What do you look for?  Yes, it may be signed with a recognizable name but is it even real?  So many questions.  It is very hard to figure out which is real or reproduction.  One way you can tell is by feeling the painting.  The real canvas paintings have brushstrokes you can feel.

In this article, we will cover the ways how you can tell if a canvas painting is original.  We will also cover the difference between a print and a painting and how to get a piece of art authenticated.  By the end of this article, you will feel confident buying that canvas painting and knowing it is real.

Difference Between a Painting and a Print

There are several ways in which to tell the difference between a painting and a print.  Knowing the difference will help you identify which one you are looking at

Difference Between a Painting and a Print

Painting

This is characterized as the application of pigments to a canvas.  It can be acrylic, oil, or watercolors on paper, canvas, etc.  .  A painting is also one of a kind, the only one in existence.

Print

This is a generic term for something that can be made in a reproducible format.  There are also fine art prints, which are made for a chosen medium specifically.  They are not copies of an original.  Prints, in general, can be done on all types of paper using different types of printers and inks.  It can make many copies of an original.  When you are purchasing a print, you are just purchasing one of many.

How to Tell if a Canvas Painting is Original?

You do not have to be an expert in art to be able to tell if the canvas painting you are considering purchasing or looking at is original, a print, or a reproduction.  Below are ways to help you know the difference.

How to Tell if a Canvas Painting is Original

  • Feel or see the texture of the paint: With original canvas paintings, there are individual brushstrokes that you can feel or see.  This is especially true of Post-impressionist and impressionist artists like Monet.  Some artists will use layers of translucent thin glazes and pigments mixed together to give the canvas painting a lacquer smooth surface.
  • Feel or see the texture of the canvas: In the 1980s, there was a technique invented which could digitize scans of fine art and transfer them to a canvas.  It was called a giclee and can be so realistic you can mistake it for an original canvas painting.  To tell the difference you will need to run your hand along the surface of the canvas painting.

The giclee print will have a uniform texture and no skips, brushstrokes, swirls, or buildups, which are indicative of real paint.  It will feel like the colors are embedded into it.  If you feel any of those then it is a real canvas painting.

  • Does it have a lip around the image: In some printing processes, the ink will be wiped away from the plate surface and will be retained in the grooves that have been etched or cut away.  The ink will then be forced out onto the paper.  It will most like be a print if you see a straight raised lip around the artwork.
  • Clear boundary to the image: It is most likely a print if the image of the artwork looks to have a straight, clean boundary around it that does not extend to the canvas edge.  When an artist paints on a canvas, the edges will be ragged and uneven or it will go to the edges of the canvas.
  • Check of an edition number: If you see a number in the form of xx/yyy, it is most likely the number of a limited-edition print.  For example, if it is 55/140, it means that it is the 55th print in a run of 140 prints.  A canvas painting would not have this.
  • Use a magnifying glass to see if there is a dot pattern: If you can see some type of dot pattern, that is a giveaway that it is some type of reproduction.  Looking at a pattern can help reveal the process of printing that was used.  If you do not see any dot patterns, then it is an original canvas painting.
  • Hold it up to the light: When you hold it up to the light, look at it from the backside.  If you can see the image of the entire scene on the canvas, it is most like a reproduction.
  • Look to see if there is any copyright information: If you see any of this type of information, it is most likely a reproduction because you will not find this information on a real canvas painting.

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How to Authenticate a Piece of Art?

One of the first things to do is make sure that you are going to a qualified authority who has worked exclusively with the works of the artist who has done the canvas painting.  They will be well known in the art world along with being an expert of a particular artist.  They will have also verified many of that artist’s works.  Some of these that authenticate canvas paintings are curators at a museum or art galleries.  They may also have sold works by the artist you want to be authenticated.

How to Authenticate a Piece of Art

When you have your canvas painting authenticated you will be given documentation called provenance.  This will assure that the canvas painting is genuine and was painted by the artist in question.  For older works, it can also confirm that it is authentic through past ownership.  It should also have the signature of the one who authenticated the canvas painting.

There are many ways in which you can verify your artwork, which include:

  • As mentioned, having a signed certificate of authenticity. If you are purchasing a canvas painting from the artist, having a signed certificate is very important.  If you are purchasing it through a gallery, they should give you information about who previously owned it at the top of the certificate.  Having a sales receipt from the gallery can also count.
  • From artwork that is more established, it can be anything from document or appraisal to the exhibition sticker that is attached to the canvas painting that experts about the artist can recognize. This will tell you about the journey that the artwork has taken over the course of years it has been around.

You should never purchase or bid on artwork that has been established or by well-known artists without having a good provenance.  The provenance or certificate of authenticity should contain the mediums used in the painting, the dimensions of the painting, its title, and the date it was painted.  Having this certificate of authenticity makes the painting more desirable.

The Cost of Authenticating a Painting

The cost to authenticate a canvas painting varies according to the expert you are using.  It is not cheap.  If you take it to an independent expert, such as someone in academics, they can charge as much as five hundred dollars or higher.  It depends also on the artist you want to be authenticated and the possible value of the work if it is original.  Some will base their fee based on the medium used.

The Cost of Authenticating a Painting

Is There An App That Can Identify A Painting?

Yes, there is an app that will let you scan a canvas painting with their smartphone camera to find out more about it.  It will also save a digital copy.  This app is called Smartify.  It uses image recognition to identify the artwork that was scanned and will give you information about the artwork.

You can also use your computer to help identify canvas paintings.  You will open your web browser and go to Google Images. In the search bar, you will click on the small camera icon to do a reverse search to identify the painting.

Conclusion

How to tell if a canvas painting is original you would need to take it to an expert and have it authenticated to be sure but there are things that you can do before you buy to give you an idea if it is a print, reproduction, or an original.   In this article, we covered all of these things so you can be comfortable buying a canvas painting before having it authenticated.

Randy Charles
Randy CharlesProfessional Painter

Hi, I’m Randy Charles, the creator and chief editor of this site Paintcentric. I’m a businessman now by profession, but I used to work as a painter earlier in my professional career. There is simply nothing about painting that I didn’t do as a painter. From painting a fridge to a multi-storied building, I left nothing. I retired from my painting job in the mid of 2018 due to back arthritis problems.

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