Filed Under:Agent Broker, Agency Management

The art of identifying fine artwork

Appraising artwork "in the style of" Paul Delaroche

Color tonalities and figure detail of an original Paul Delaroche painting
Color tonalities and figure detail of an original Paul Delaroche painting "The Execution of Lady Jane Grey." (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

“In the manner of”. “School of”. “Follower of”.

These are all terms used to describe a work of art created in the style of a master artist but not by the hand of the master artist.

If a painting is described, for instance, as “In the Manner of Claude Monet,” it has been documented that the painting was done in the same style of the artist but after his lifetime. A “Follower of Claude Monet” painting was done in the same style of the artist during his lifetime and perhaps by a devoted student of the artist.

At times the paintings created in the same style/manner of a master artist can be deceiving, especially in the case where the master artist isn’t always known for signing his or her paintings. Paintings can be traded in the market for years with the attribution of a master artist but then determined by an expert not to be by the hand of the artist. Because in many cases the owner of the painting believes the piece to be original, and likely paid the price of an original, insuring these paintings can prove to be difficult.

Related: Handling high-value fine art claims

Enservio Select’s art appraisal team was recently tasked with appraising an ‘Old Master’ painting believed to be by Paul Delaroche (French, 1797-1856), which was the subject of an insurance claim. In fine art, the term 'Old Master' traditionally refers to great European painters practicing during the period roughly 1300-1830.

Delaroche was a successful academic artist from France during the early to mid-19th century who specialized in painting historical scenes. He studied at the Fine Arts Academy in Paris before becoming one of the leading pupils of Baron Antoine-Jean Gros. Delaroche’s paintings were completed with a smooth surface, giving the appearance of a high finish. In particular, his historical images were highly successful and reproduced many times with engraved reproductions. This made the artist and his work a familiar figure in France. His work is hung in the Louvre, the National Gallery in London, the Musee des Beaux-Arts, as well as in many prominent collections. Old Master experts are aware of the whereabouts of most known Delaroche paintings.   

The Paul Delaroche painting in question was a large example, approximately 40” x 30”, and depicting a Queen and her statesmen. The painting was not signed. If this were an original Delaroche, the painting would fetch about $40,000 at auction and have an even higher retail replacement value. If this were a period piece created in the same style of the artist, the auction value would fall in the $4,000 to $6,000 range. This painting was unique in that it was much larger than Delaroche’s known works, which is what first raised the question of authenticity. The frame on the painting bears a plate which reads, “Queen and Statesmen Paul Delaroche.”

Related: State of the ‘Art’

Paul Delaroche painting

Detail of the hand in the Paul Delaroche painting in question. (Photo: Courtesy of Enservio)

The appraisal process

When examining a work of art to determine if its original, one looks to the original known paintings by the artist which are documented and housed in museums and major collections to see if the artist’s painterly style, attention to detail, signature, subject matter, etc. match the painting in question.

Delaroche painted using a chiaroscuro technique to create light and shadow. As seen in his notable masterpieces, the light and shadow scale is extremely noticeable as main figures are bathed in light while the background transitions into darkness. Delaroche also painted in painstaking detail every element of his work, as did most Old Masters. One can look at the hands as an example of detail. In Delaroche’s original work, the hands show the veins, the knuckle creases, the fingers are proportionate and differentiate in size.                                                                                             
Details of hands from original Paul Delaroche painting "Death of Elizabeth Queen of England." (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) Click on the image to enlarge.

Paul Delaroche painting

When comparing the attributes of an original Delaroche painting to the “Queen and Statesmen” painting in question, Enservio experts saw the canvas was lacking in artistic detail, as highlighted using the example of the hands. The hands in the subject painting were not of correct proportions and lack the detail which Delaroche gave his work. The figures also lacked detail which separates them from the background using perspective. The absence of chiaroscuro technique was noticeable on the subject canvas.

Related: 4 steps to insuring clients’ valuable artwork at every stage

Also, the size discrepancies of the smaller original works and the larger subject canvas were another factor in determining authenticity. The detail, painterly style and excellence, and color tonalities found in original Delaroche paintings were lacking in the subject canvas; therefore, for purposes of valuation, Enservio valued this painting as “in the style of” Delaroche, indicating it was painted by a follower of his or a student replicating his style, not by the hand of Delaroche. The fact that the subject canvas had a nameplate on the frame attributing the artist to Delaroche is common, as most dealers used this technique to sell works and it is not known when the painting and the frame came together, as the frame is likely not a late 18th/early 19th-century original.

As we saw in this instance, the use of nameplates can be suspect, since frames are rarely original to Old Master works. Additionally, the age of the painting doesn’t appear to be made during Delaroche’s lifetime and furthermore, our research into the artist revealed that a painting titled “Queen and Statesmen” did not surface among Delaroche’s oeuvre or legacy of work.

Auction houses commonly sell work that is created in the same style of the artist and describe the paintings accordingly. For instance, Christie’s Paris offered a Portrait of Napoleon from the Studio of Paul Delaroche measuring 78 3/4” x 59 7/8” for an estimate of $5,309-$8,495 in 2014 and in 2011 Christie’s sold a portrait of Napoleon in Fontainebleau after Paul Delaroche measuring 34” x 27” for $6,010. Enservio looked to these market examples to recommend a claim settlement for the painting in question with a retail replacement value of $6,000.

Related: Determining value is a fine art

Erin Hollenbank, ASA, is an accredited appraiser of fine and decorative art at Enservio, which provides contents valuation services and software for national insurance carriers.

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