Nine questions to ask when identifying an artwork
I am often surprised by the lack of consistency in describing an artwork. As any art professional can tell you, a full description of an artwork is required in order to evaluate an artwork accurately and perhaps more importantly, when reporting a lost or stolen work of art. Throughout my career, I have seen artwork described in dozens of different formats usually missing vital information about the work of art like title, year and dimensions. Fortunately, we now have Object ID to use as a widely recognized guide. Established by J. Paul Getty Trust, Object ID is the international standard for the minimum information needed to identify art, antiques and antiquities.
Herewith is an indispensable checklist to refer to when cataloging or describing your artwork whether it is for identification of a lost or stolen work of art, your art insurance claims, planning your estate or for your our due diligence. Answer the following 9 questions and you will be well on your way to ensuring your art is well cared for in the future.
- Type of object. What kind of object is it (e.g. painting, sculpture, clock, make)?
- Materials. What materials is the object made of (e.g. brass, wood, oil on canvas)? How was it made (e.g. carved, cast, etched?)
- Measurements. What is the size and/or weight of the object? Specify which unit of measurement is being used (e.g. cm’s, inches) and to which dimensions the measurements refer (e.g. height, width, depth).
- Inscriptions & Markings. Are there any identifying markings, numbers, or inscriptions on the object (e.g. a signature, dedication, title, maker’s marks, purity marks, property marks, invisible inks)
- Distinguishing Features. Does the object have any physical characteristics that could help identify it (e.g. damage, repairs, manufacturing defects)?
- Title. Does the object have a title by which it is known and might be identified (e.g. The Scream?)
- Subject. What is pictured or represented? (e.g landscape, battle, woman holding child)
- Date or period. What was the object made? (e.g. 1893, early 17th Century, Late Bronze age).
- Maker. Do you know who made the object? This may be the name of a known individual (e.g. Pablo Picasso) a company (e.g. Tiffany) or a cultural group. (e.g Hopi).
WRITE A SHORT DESCRIPTION
This can also include any individual information which helps to identify the object (e.g. color and shape of the object, where it was made etc.)
KEEP IT SECURE
Having documented the object, keep this information in a safe place and always create a back up for your records.
REMEMBER to first take photographs of your work (overall views, close-ups of inscriptions, markings and any damage or repairs, and always include a SCALE or object of a known size in the image (ie. a pencil). Photography is also a vital part of identifying and recovering stolen objects.