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Fine Art/Chagall lithographs from estate-- authentic?



Perhaps you can help me with a case of non-buyer's remorse!

Recently, I found (but did not purchase) what appeared to be several lovely
numbered and pencil-signed Chagall lithographs (all from the same estate) at
an estate liquidating company in Palm Springs, CA.  The quality of
color/paper (not to mention the frame job itself on the large poster-sized
print) were gorgeous, but the prices ($450-$675) were so low that we were
scared that they were worthless fakes. But then again, judging by the other
items for sale, the estates being liquidated clearly belonged to people of

Is it possible that we goofed and passed up a genuine find? What could we
have done to check into authenticity or to gauge actual value, given that the
seller was a general estate liquidator, not an art dealer? How much does
hiring an authentication expert cost? Is it even _possible_ to resell pieces
from an estate sale if they don't come with papers? How do we start to
educate ourselves for the future?

Thank you very much!
A new enthusiast...Sayuri

Dear Sayuri,

The identification of original prints starts with the art meeting the specifications of the original release. This can be very difficult for inexperienced collectors and most of the time requires the use of a catalogue raisonne of the artist’s prints. The criteria to be met is size of image; size of the limited edition; paper type; and whether it is hand or plate signed. This requires access to his catalogue raisonne; either book or online.

Usually there is a preview day of the items prior to the auction date. You should go to these and document all the information available by inspection of the items that interest you. As I mentioned, note the title, size, and any other markings. If you are experienced in using a loupe, you can also verify the medium. Using this information you should be able to do some research at home before bidding at auction. I often use my digital camera to take photos of the art so that I can use it for comparison during my research. Look for information that may be on the back of a framed print.

Without documentation on the art, you will still need authentication of the signature and the overall print before you can insure the art or sell it as original. Getting an authentication on a print depends on the service, but should not be over $200-300.  If you do your initial “sanity” checks, the cost of authentication can be considered minimal in comparison to a large signed and numbered original Chagall lithograph.

One thing I always tell my collectors to consider before buying art they cannot verify at the time of purchase is to ask themselves if they like the image, feel the price is reasonable, and would enjoy it whether it is original or not. If it is professionally framed, the cost of the framing could easily reach the value of the sale prices you mentioned for the art. Many people pay $300-400 buying framed reproduction decorative art from furniture and department stores for their home; so why not buy something that has aesthetic as well as possible investment value in the same range? If you look at art as something you would like to hang in your home, rather than as an investment, you won’t overspend on the price expecting it to be original. I personally love Chagall lithographs and if I had seen what you describe at the price, I probably would have purchased one or two and then do my research; knowing they might be fake, but not regretful because I did not spend much for them.

Enjoy building your collection with art you love rather than trying to make art an investment. Investment buying requires experience that most collectors do not have and generally should not be done without professional assistance. If you have a particular artist that you would like to collect, it may be reasonable for you to spend the time to learn all that you can about the artist’s work and be able to do your own research.

I hope this information is helpful.

Best regards,

Fine Art

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Dolly D Headley


I can assist with identification, acquisition, sell representation, and care of fine art prints and original paintings. Some of my artist specialties include Henri Toulouse Lautrec, California Artists, and the Modern Masters. I can also assist with information on getting professional appraisals and authentication.


Dolly D. Headley, owner of Headley Fine Art, LLC, has provided consultative art services to retail gallery clients in Sausalito, CA, and at since 1998. With over 14 years experience as a Senior Art Consultant, Gallery Director, and an extensive art research library; Ms. Headley has provided hundreds of people with her high quality personalized consultation services and solid guarantee of satisfaction. Dolly is a volunteer at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Member of the Association of Online Appraisers.

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Bachelor of Science; Self taught with thousands of hours research and retail gallery consulting. Personalized mentorship from various experts in the industry.

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