Monday, September 29, 2008

How Researching Artist's Signature Pays Off

Diego Rivera

If you came across a quality painting with only the initials “CC” signed, would it be worth your while to find out if this might be something of value? On the one hand, the time researching might pay off handsomely, but on the other hand, the time spent researching might add nothing more than another layer of knowledge, possibly to be used next time around.

This is the way it is in the Fine Arts business. You’ll often find signed paintings, but can’t decipher the signature. It may take you a lot of time researching and there’s a chance you’ll come up empty handed. But, the rewards of finding something valuable are fantastic. I found a painting one time that I knew had to be painted by a talented artist, but I couldn’t read the signature. My only solution was to go through the entire set of signature books I had, so I decided to do this. About halfway through the first book, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I found a direct match. At this point, I still didn’t know the value of my piece, but once I saw this artist’s signature in the book, I knew he was a listed artist and I could track this down.

I grabbed my Davenport’s Art Price Guide and quickly look him up. I discovered that the $150 I paid for this painting had been well spent. The least expensive of this artist’s work brought $5,000 while his top sale was over $82,000. I soon sold this painting for just over $12,500. If I had paid myself $200 for the time I spent researching, my profit still would have been over $11,500. Not bad for a little work.

Remember, we are looking for things others miss, and often the point where they walk away is when there’s a signature that isn’t clear. How many people do you suppose looked at that painting and thought that it just wouldn’t be worth the effort to research it.

There are other things people walk away from in the art world. For example, many famous artists used only initials to sign their work. If you don’t have a book on these monograms, then they’ll mean nothing to you. I use the American and European set of books called “Signatures and Monograms” by John Castagno. If you can find these used on the Internet or through Abesbooks or Amazon, they could be like gold to you.

In these books, you’ll also learn that artists often painted under more than one name. A woman may have painted under her maiden name, as well as her married name. These books also contain sections on indecipherable signatures and the symbols some artists used on their paintings.

You will also find where artist often painted under more than one name. A lady for instance my have painted under her maiden name and also her married name. They also have a sections in these books on indecipherable signatures and symbols that some artist used on their paintings.

Back to my original question – if you found a painting marked “CC”, would you take the time to research it? If you did, you’d discover it was painted by the famous artist Jean Baptiste Camilla Corot, and it would be very valuable. If a painting is signed, “Picasso” most people would pay attention, but if it had the initial D with the number 32 after it and you researched it, you’d know it was by Diego Rivera and it was time to snatch that up. And what if you could buy one of these for just a few hundred dollars, because somebody didn’t know what it was. The record for one of Rivera’s works is over $1,500,000. Like I said in my book, let’s spend our time where the money is.

One of our members just emailed me about a painting she purchased for $1200. If it’s genuine, it’s worth over $28,000. I have my fingers crossed for her. And presently, I’m researching a painting that could very easily be worth $65,000 or more. I’ll share the results with you when I get them, and it wouldn’t hurt to have your fingers crossed for me, too.

There are other sources of looking up artists, such as, and These are subscription based services. If you're a member of the 31 Club, rather than subscribing to these yourself, you can give us a call and we'll check the name and prices for you. That's just one more advantage of being a member.

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  1. I have a painting and would like more info on the artist. I have a picture of his signature but can't seem to find any info can you help?

  2. Please send me the photo of the signature.


  3. Hi just wanted to confirm that you got the picture with the artist signature.