Buying art online: the importance of due diligence

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Danielle Rahm

Despite recent high-profile prosecutions of forgers, huge numbers of collectors are still being duped into buying forged art online – often accompanied by dubious evidence of provenance and authenticity.

Danielle Rahm, director of New York Fine Art Appraisers, says that art collectors should always take extra care when buying work online.

“These days you can even buy art on Amazon – the online platforms mean that purchasing art has become very easy and very commercialised, to a point where you just click a button and you’ve purchased a major work of art.

“That can be very tempting for collectors that maybe aren’t as experienced – and these services are markets towards those clients. Unfortunately, if you don’t know the right questions to ask it can be a huge disaster: you can be taken advantage of. I advise due diligence and caution when going into any transaction and even if it’s a very well-known gallery or dealer then they should have no problem providing you with documentation that you need.”

Forgery is big business, and in the face of this, Rahm advises always asking ask for the full documentation of the artwork’s provenance. You should find out if there are any certificates of authenticity, any letters from experts, and check the catalogue raisonné to make sure that the citation that the person who’s selling it is accurate, and that it’s really the piece that they are saying it is.

“You have to make sure you ask about condition, so always ask for a condition report,” she says. “If they don’t know the condition the seller should hire a conservator to take a look at the piece and provide you with the full disclosure of condition, provenance any exhibition history, any publications – they are all critical,” she says.

“You should also be sure that you understand the medium – for an inexperienced new collector medium is something that can be worded to a point where they don’t fully understand what it is they’re buying – they might believe a ‘hand touched giclée’ is a unique work of art and that’s not really the case. Disclosure is very important, as is knowing what questions to ask. If it is an edition, ask about the size of the edition, and whether there were other editions. Knowledge is power.”