Art Provenance

Who, What, When, Where, How…?

What do you know about the art on your walls?

You hear a lot about provenance in the art world. As it should be – provenance is an important part of the art in your collection. Provenance is how you answer important questions, like who really created the art, when it was created, sometimes where it was created, and hopefully how it was created.

above: Brooklyn displayed in collectors home.

Art provenance is the history of a painting, its creation, and ownership used to help establish its authenticity. Documents used for provenance include sales receipts, auction and exhibition catalogs, gallery stickers on the painting, letters from the artist, statements from people who knew the artist, or circumstances of the painting. These must mention the painting specifically enough for it to be identified, not in vague or broad terms.


So what is Provenance? First off, let’s take a quick read of Wikipedia’s definition…

Provenance, from the French provenir, “to come from”, refers to the chronology of the ownership or location of a historical object. The term was originally mostly used for works of art but is now used in similar senses in a wide range of fields, including science and computing. Typical uses may cover any artifact found in archaeology, any object in paleontology, certain documents (such as manuscripts), or copies of printed books. In most fields, the primary purpose of provenance is to confirm or gather evidence as to the time, place, and—when appropriate—the person responsible for the creation, production, or discovery of the object. This will typically be accomplished by tracing the whole history of the object up to the present. Comparative techniques, expert opinions, and the results of scientific tests may also be used to these ends, but establishing provenance is essentially a matter of documentation.

The provenance of works of fine art, antiques, and antiquities is of great importance, especially to their owner. There are a number of reasons why painting provenance is important, which mostly also applies to other types of fine art. A good provenance increases the value of a painting, and establishing provenance may help confirm the date, artist, and, especially for portraits, the subject of a painting. It may confirm whether a painting is genuine of the period it seems to date from. The provenance of paintings can help resolve ownership disputes. For example, provenance between 1933 and 1945 can determine whether a painting was looted by the Nazis. Many galleries are putting a great deal of effort into researching the provenance of paintings in their collections for which there is no firm provenance during that period. Documented evidence of provenance for an object can help to establish that it has not been altered and is not a forgery, a reproduction, stolen or looted art. Provenance helps assign the work to a known artist, and a documented history can be of use in helping to prove ownership.

The quality of provenance of an important work of art can make a considerable difference to its selling price in the market; this is affected by the degree of certainty of the provenance, the status of past owners as collectors, and in many cases by the strength of evidence that an object has not been illegally excavated or exported from another country. The provenance of a work of art may vary greatly in length, depending on context or the amount that is known, from a single name to an entry in a scholarly catalog some thousands of words long. An expert certification can mean the difference between an object having no value and being worth a fortune.

(edited for relevance – read for the complete definition)

It would be easy in this article to say what should be done, or suggest that there is some sort of “industry standard”. In many ways, that would be great. But in reality, that’s not the case. So, instead, I’ll express what I do as an artist to create and provide provenance in my creations. As an artist, I do everything from concept to completion in the creation of my artworks and I take great pride in the art that bears my signature. I believe in creating and providing documentation with my art that validates its creation. My collectors deserve that. Let’s face it, in reality, my art will be around long after I’m gone, and as a dedicated artist, I believe I owe it to my collectors to verify and validate the creation of my art for them in any way I can.

The provenance of my art often includes:

• Signed Certificates of Authenticity: I create and sign color certificates of my original paintings for my collectors.
• Sales Receipt: A sales receipt from my office serves as additional validation.
• Newspaper and Magazine Articles: Articles about me and my art are archived on my site at and often include mentions of specific artworks with their links. Press links and tear sheets can be viewed at
• Tear Sheets: Tearsheets, posters, postcards, and other printed promotional items often feature my art in announcing events and art shows where my art is featured.
• Web Site(s): This website features only A.D. Cook’s original artworks and offers authentic provenance to my art and its creation. Please note that information about me and my art found on other websites may not be entirely accurate. Please refer to this site as the authentic resource for my creations.
• Social Media: Today’s world of social media offers yet another viable source of provenance. I often post art-in-creation and finished artworks on my primary Twitter account at Twitter/ADCookArt and on other social media sites linked to this website.
• Videos of the Art and Artist: In many cases, we create videos of my art creation.
• Art Timeline: This website includes an art timeline that includes every artwork on the site from 1988 to date.

In some cases, as in the video above, an artist interview with a featured artwork serves as provenance – watch my artist Q&A video with “Encore“.

You can also view videos from the individual art pages on this site. A complete list of my art-in-creation videos can be viewed anytime by clicking here.

In closing, real provenance is essential in understanding the value of your art – not just monetarily, but as an informed collector, it’s important to know your art’s history and the story of its creation. As an artist, I will always endeavor to create both authentic original art and viable provenance. My collectors deserve nothing less.

Provenance articles on other sites…

International Foundation For Art Research – IFAR Provenance Guide

Art Provenance: What Is It and How to Verify It by Alan Bamberger

How to Collect and Buy Art: The Basics by Alan Bamberger

Provenance: Ignore It At Your Peril –

The Getty Research Institute: Provenance FAQ

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