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‘Provenance’ in simplified terms means the documented history of an Antique. In ‘documented history’ I am talking about who made the Antique,  who owned it, when and where etc. In all cases, the more important the Antique, the more important it is to establish the provenance.  It can make the difference of a few thousand dollars to many millions!

There are many ways to establish provenance on an Antique. From appearing in a journal, auction record or photograph, to a signature on the piece or a letter from the owner or maker. A photo of the piece in it’s setting decades earlier is great to have.

We had a dining room suite made by ‘Camille Gauthier’, a famous and important Art Nouveau cabinet maker of the early 20th Century.  Our suite came with the original catalogue from the 1920’s which actually illustrated the suite in its entirety.  The provenance was immediately established by the little catalogue not more than 3″ x 5″. That small catalogue was as valuable as the suite itself!

I caught a very interesting program on CBS the other night, regarding a truck driving woman in her 70’s who bought a painting at a thrift store in California for 5$.  She’s been offered up to $9M dollars for the piece but stubbornly refuses to sell it, holding out for more money.

It’s an interesting story because she had no art background or training but liked the painting because she thought it was ‘ugly’ and bought it as a joke to show her friend.   She talked the thrift store vendor down from $8 to $5.

The friend, an art teacher saw the painting and thought it might be a ‘Jackson Pollock.’  ‘Jackson Pollock’ for those of you who may not be familiar with his name,  is an important American painter from the 1940’s whose paintings now fetch in the 10’s of millions of dollars.  The painting shown below is a photo of the actual work she found.

She has spent lots of money and time on trying to get the painting authenticated and some of the evidence is intriguing.  In fact, there is a supposed fingerprint on the painting that an ‘authority’ has confirmed is that of the fame artist himself.

The only problem is there is no provenance to the painting. The lady who owned the thrift store died years before and cannot say where she got it from which may of established a trail back to Jackson Pollock himself.

Sadly the trail begins and ends with the lady truck driver and that is a big problem.

Even with the so-called ‘authoritarian’s’ findings, ie. the fingerprint match, the art world will not confirm the painting is an authentic Jackson Pollock.   The Art world experts say the painting lacks the soul and heart of the Artist. All ‘Jackson Pollock’ experts denounce the painting as a fake for the reasons cited above.  That does not do the lady truck driver any good whatsoever.

In fact, all she’s done is say they are all frauds and immediately establishing enemies in high places. Not a particularly bright move.

And just recently the ‘expert’ who confirmed the fingerprint has been exposed as a convicted fraudster many time over.  In fact, he is in league with the seller in splitting the profits of the painting.  ( he resides in Montreal )

So, without ‘provenance’ the painting is a very difficult sell.  In my opinion, the truck wielding old woman should have grabbed the $9Million when she could. The last information I could find on this story is a gallery in Toronto in 2008 tried to sell it for $50M Dollars.  Whether it sold or not remains unknown as I have not found any more current information.

We had a desk owned by the famed French composer ‘Michel Legrande.’  He was famous is the 1950’s for writing many musical scores for famous Hollywood movies among other things. He is still alive and well and living in Paris today.

How did we know the antique desk was his?  We discovered letters addressed to him squashed behind a drawer and also his personal address book from the 1960’s.  It was fascinating to read about all the people he knew from Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, Yves Montand, Catherine Deneuve, Gene Kelly, Decca Records in Hollywood…etc. etc.  All their addresses and private phone numbers were there in Mon. Legrandes’ handwriting.

While it is not our mandate increase prices due to provenance , we could have done so quite easily and with good right.  We sold the desk with its interesting provenance to a lawyer who uses the desk daily at its original asking price.  We now have an elated customer who has seen referred us much business.

In our business we look for signatures more than provenance.  When an antique is ‘signed’ by the cabinet maker, and if the cabinet maker is important, then the antique is worth a considerable amount.   You will also notice us saying ‘attributed to’ meaning we can’t confirm the artist, or cabinetmaker, but we ‘think’ it may be him due to the following reasons whatever they may be.

The Following photo is a table and sideboard we currently have in stock at the store.

When we purchased these two pieces, were told the two Antiques were made by ‘Maison Kreiger, Paris‘ which is a famous cabinetmaker of the highest quality furniture.  Antoine Kreiger’s furniture sells for several thousands of dollars.

We found a label but someone has scratched out the name!!  Confounding to say the least.

We know the time period the antiques were made and the quality is top of the line, so we can feel comfortable in saying it’s attributed rather than a positive confirmation.  Hence the price is reduced even though the quality is top of the line on these antiques. We are still doing research on these two pieces and if we can establish provenance the value will increase.

We’ve had many signed pieces in before.  In fact I just sold a set of ‘Thonet’ chairs from Paris made in the 20’s.  Thonet chairs were favorites among artists like Pablo Picasso etc.  The name “Thonet” was clearly marked and stamped on each chair and are still produced today.

I have a ‘Louis Majorelle’ Cabinet coming in, in about 10 days.  I bought this myself and I am having it restored.  This piece is stamped ‘Majorelle’ so it’s provenance is indisputable.  It is also worth a considerable sum of money!

I hope this weeks’ blog has helped understand provenance and it’s complexities.  If you feel you have something that may be valuable, please feel free to contact us at any time. If we can’t help we can re-direct you to someone who could.


Mark LaFleur