Tips For Fine Art Collectors

Examine a Painting with UV Light Art Collector Use of Black Light

If you invest seriously, then you understand the concept of “due diligence.” Never was this caveat more applicable than in the purchase of art and antiques. But I constantly talk to veterans in the art field that think that looking at a painting with a black light is child’s play and that all you need to look for is a purple spot to ID the previous restoration.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There are so many reasons why a retouching would not show up under UV… and you, as a serious collector, MUST know the ins and outs of this diagnostic tool.

The painting in the video, above, is worth $X. I ask you, what is the difference in purchase price between the painting in virgin condition and the painting with the damage along the top as you have seen? My experience is, given the repairs, the price drops 10-30% depending on how rare and desirable the artwork is. So, just because the previous retouching didn’t glow purple and the fraudulent seller didn’t disclose the condition are you happy about paying 30% more? Maybe if this were a $300 painting you wouldn’t care… but its not a $300 painting. Yet, this condition was completely discoverable if you had received and embraced a bit of education.

Questions? Call Scott M. Haskins, Fine Art Conservator, 805 564 3438

Comments (7)

AllenOctober 31st, 2015 at 12:10 am

How can you tell if the glow under black light is the result of inpainting, or simply original paint pigment that fluoresced? What are the tricks? Also, do you have example in photo that shows fake signature float on the canvas?

Scott HaskinsNovember 20th, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Good questions Allen. The fluorescence of retouching can often cross compositional likes, whereas original paint, of course, is laid down as part of the subject matter and blends with other colors (sometimes). Also, take a close look when you have the two examples next to each other. The original paint may, at first, look the same but is actually different. Remember that the more powerful the UV light is, the better differentiation you’ll see.

Jim HellorMay 8th, 2016 at 6:58 am

Scott, I get what you are saying. I have been starting my art collection and was just wondering if you recommend that I check EVERY piece that I buy, or just the big ticket items?

Chase MillerMay 8th, 2016 at 7:45 am

At least there are some tools that you can use to help you through the process, right?

Scott HaskinsMay 8th, 2016 at 5:25 pm

Like any other skill, investigative skills get better or sharper with use. Get a good quality black light and use it on everything you can think of just to train yourself. Ask questions when you buy or are considering a buy. The UV light will help you ask better questions.

Linda ReynoldsOctober 18th, 2016 at 6:17 pm

I have a mixed medium (charcoal/watercolor/pastel?) and the signature is obscured under either paint or pastel. Would a black light illuminate it?

Scott HaskinsOctober 4th, 2017 at 8:04 pm

Probably not Linda. But its good idea to have a UV light for antiquing etc and if you get one, it won’t hurt to look at the signature.

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