Why a Certificate of Authenticity?
A declaration of authenticity has to assure both buyer and the artist (who in our case is Marc Chagall and in some instances Charles Sorlier) of the authenticity of a work of art. Chagall was involved intimately with the issuing of his graphic art, concerning himself with the printing, the publishing, book production, the print run and, where applicable, numbering and signing. Along with the year of issuing and the title of the work, these data form the basis of our Certificate of Authenticity.
The certificate tries to bridge the distance between Chagall and the work’s new owner, assuring the owner of possessing a lithograph, etching or woodcut that was authorized by Chagall. Almost all of Chagall’s graphic art is described in detail in about twenty standard works, with a catalogue number and usually a clear reproduction: a useful basis for more extensive documentation.
Issuing a Certificate of Authenticity is a time-consuming activity which mainly relies on expert knowledge about the art and about where to find information in the catalogues and other sources. We are convinced that as this graphic art grows older and scarcer, the demand for reliable information about it will grow. Each well-wrought Certificate adds to the storing of reliable information.å
What makes an authentic Chagall
Following the example of Chagall, we adhere to the clear criterion that a work of art is only authentic if it comes from a print run authorized by Chagall. If Chagall has authorized a print run of fifty for a certain etching, then there are no more than fifty authentic copies. All other copies are either rejected copies, surplus prints which were not destroyed, illegal prints, falsifications or any of a number of other options. Clearly, intuition is not sufficient for determining whether one possesses one of those fifty authentic copies. Fortunately, the standard works offer a preliminary orientation. Of course, identification becomes a lot easier when one can compare work with a known authorized copy.
This ‘clear’ criterion contrasts with other opinions. Such as the opinion that an original graphic work of art is a piece of paper impressed with the unique plate, stone or woodblock carrying the image.
Different opinions sometimes caused friction between Chagall – proponent of the clear criterion – and his editors, such as Mr. and Ms. Maeght. There are other, still more encompassing opinions – especially among dealers – the great majority of whom consider information from the official standard works to be of secondary importance.
Numbering and signing
Fewer than five percent of Chagall’s lithographs, etchings and woodcuts are numbered and signed. This is an unexpectedly low percentage, looking at the quantity of signed Chagall’s on offer. This is because adding a signature to a work of art multiplies the value by ten, which makes it a very tempting adjustment to some sellers. The chances of being caught are slight, as expert knowledge is required to read Chagall’s signature. Such tampering is also frequently present in the graphic art of Matisse, Picasso, Miro, Leger, and many others. We don’t have the expertise to make pronouncements about these artists’ signatures. We are confident however, about the evaluation of Chagall’s signature. Having the documentation, we don’t need to rely on intuition alone.
Content of our Certificate of Authenticity
Name and numbering
The works of art that left Chagall’s studio were usually given titles by others, as Chagall tended to believe titles distract from the work. In case of graphic art, in which the publisher is handed a stack of works to use at his own discretion, the problem of naming is more pronounced still. As Chagall ideally would have used only catalogue numbers, we put no emphasis on titles.
Over time we have come to consider the following aspects as important:
- The kind of graphic art and the official catalogue number, the printers’ name, the publisher and year of issuing, the type of issuing and the print run
- For numbered art: Whether the numbering is justified and correct
- For signed art: Whether the signature was added by Chagall
- A detailed description of where the work can be found in the standard reference works
- A description of the current condition of the work
- A guarantee that the work is authentic and the description accurate
- The date of issuing of the certificate, the name and address of the works new owner
A note on the above
Condition of the work
Most of the graphic art that was framed behind glass in the twentieth century has suffered from the effect of daylight. As the paint loses its pigmentation, the work becomes less powerful and should be considered ‘second hand’. A piece of art can lose its original vitality in other ways as well, such as amateur treatment or damage. A certificate is only of value if it describes these aspects.
Guarantee of the work
The certificate should mention the guarantor of the piece it describes. A detailed certificate is only useful if there is a guarantor for its accuracy. A guarantee along the lines of ‘Not satisfied, your money back’ leaves too much room for sale tricks. Such a provision is not a guarantee of the piece’s authenticity.
Link between certificate and sold work
To prevent a buyer from substituting a falsification for the sold piece, each work leaves our collection matted and closed at the back. This allows for a matching of the piece and its Certificate of Authenticity, showing that both are from the WUYT-collection.
Our certificate registration system
Each piece that leaves the WUYT-collection has a unique registration number consisting of seven letters and numbers:
Pos. 1&2: The last two numbers of the year of issuing
Pos. 3: The month of issuing from A to H and J to M
Pos. 4&5: The day of issuing
Pos. 6: The way in which the work has left the collection (see list of condition terms)
Pos. 7: The serial number for the day of issuing
Number 06J23G4, for instance, means this is the Fourth work that left our collection (in Good condition) on September 23rd in 2006.