IFAR Collectors' Corner



IFAR offers many services and benefits to collectors – from dynamic programs on topics rarely touched on elsewhere; to publications on subjects of interest to collectors; to an Art Authentication Research Service unique in the United States and perhaps the world; to Provenance Research services; and many other activities. In addition, the quarterly IFAR Journal offers regular news and updates on subjects involving the art community, a Stolen Art Alert, and in-depth articles on authenticity issues and connoisseurship, the scientific examination of works of art, restitution of stolen and Holocaust related art, caring for works of art, and much more.

For higher level IFAR donors, we also offer participation in our Collectors' Roundtable. Roundtable members enjoy intimate visits to private collections, and behind-the-scenes tours to museums and conservation labs, with the chance to meet experts and ask questions.

The Collectors' Corner of the Website is a new and expanding resource offering practical information for collectors—both experienced collectors as well as those getting started –- on researching, authenticating, documenting, insuring and caring for their artworks. Peace of mind is a valuable commodity. Purchasing, maintaining and securing artworks can be daunting. To help bring assurance, IFAR's Collectors' Corner contains useful tips and information gleaned from our extensive experience with topics ranging from provenance research and stolen art registration, to authentication, insurance and security.

Above (highlighted in blue) is a list of topics that link to sections below. Remember that this information can be supplemented by articles in the IFAR Journal and presentations by today's leading experts at IFAR Evenings. Please alsolink to our Provenance, Authentication Research, and Catalogue Raisonné sections of the Web site for more information on these subjects.


Ten Questions Owners Should Ask When Acquiring or Owning Art

  1. Is the work authentic?
  2. Does it appear in the artist's catalogue raisonné (if one exists)?
  3. What is the provenance?
  4. Is the work looted or stolen?
  5. What is the condition history? Has the work been lined or otherwise restored?
  6. Should the work be cleaned?
  7. Should I have it independently appraised?
  8. Should I insure it? If so, for how much?
  9. Do I have a photograph of the work, and know the dimensions and other identifying details, in case the work is stolen?
  10. If the work is stolen or damaged, do I know what to do?


Purchasing Art: Where to Begin?

Forging relationships with galleries, art professionals and other collectors is key both to becoming educated about works of art and knowledgeable about the environment of buying and selling art. Join collectors' groups at museums to experience how museums themselves select works for purchase. Introduce yourself to curators and get to know more about the kind of art you are interested in.  Discover which galleries and dealers you can safely trust, but at the same time keep your own independence of mind by educating yourself through research at art-related libraries and on the Web and, most importantly, through looking at art in your local museums, galleries, and art shows. Some collectors advise beginning with smaller works,such as drawings or prints, by artists you like so as to understand their work process. Others advise focusing on a particular format or genre (such as landscapes or still-lifes) and then broadening out. Investing your time is as important as investing your money. You canobtain help from dealers' organizations, such as the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA), the Fine Art Dealers Association (FADA), and the Private Art Dealers Association (PADA). The major auction houses — Christie's and Sotheby's — also offer advice.


Provenance Research

Provenance is the detailed history of ownership of an artwork. Not all works will have a fully discoverable provenance, but you may be able to supplement the information provided by the vendor and, in certain cases, fill noticeable gaps. A good starting point for conducting provenance research, particularly for Old Master paintings, is the Getty Provenance Index, a computerized set of databases containing nearly 1,000,000 records on Western European works from the late 16th century to the early 20th century. Catalogues raisonnés — scholarly compilations of an artist's body of work — are also very useful in conducting provenance research. The catalogue should contain provenance information on all known authentic works by a given artist. You can consult IFAR's Catalogue Raisonné Database for published and forthcoming catalogues raisonnés to discover whether a catalogue on a particular artist is available. For works that do not appear in an artist's catalogue raisonné, there are many other ways of researching provenance. See IFAR's Provenance Guide for a more detailed guide to this process, particularly concerning objects with gaps in ownership during the years 1933-1945, and antiquities. IFAR also offers a Provenance Research Service for a modest fee.


Checking Whether a Work is Stolen

In 1977, IFAR created the pioneering Stolen Art Archive, which we later computerized into a database. In 1991, when the database became too large for a non-profit to manage, IFAR helped create The Art Loss Register (ALR) as a commercial venture, licensed the database to it, and, initially, managed the ALR’s U.S. operations.  The database has grown into the largest private stolen art database in the world, with more than 200,000 registered items.  Before acquiring a new work, or, if you wish to know whether a work you already own might be stolen, you should conduct a search of the ALRdatabase, as well as other public and private stolen art databases. There are also specialized databases for Holocaust-era looted art and for specific types of art objects, such as coins and manuscripts.  In addition, you may find it useful to consult the hard copy of the Stolen Art Alert published by IFAR since 1977. It is included in every issue of the IFAR Journal.  Highlights from the Stolen Art Alert are also available on our Website.


Verifying Authenticity

Do not buy on impulse! Make sure that you thoroughly research any artwork you have an interest in buying. Catalogues raisonnés are very useful in conducting research on the authenticity of a given work. IFAR's bibliographic databases (referenced above) on published catalogues raisonnés and thosein preparation will indicate the artists for whom catalogues exist. Relevant catalogues should contain information on works that, at thetime of publication of the catalogue, the catalogue authors considered "authentic."  If there is no catalogue raisonné on your artist, research can be pursued at libraries and other research institutions.   Museum libraries can be helpful, and many public libraries have sections devoted to art.  The Frick Art Reference Library in New York has an extensive photographic archive on individual artists, as well as access to subscriber-based Websites and digital resources relevant to collecting and issues of authenticity. If still in doubt, consult an expert in the field. IFAR's Art Authentication Research Service can also be a valuable resource in this regard.


Determining a Work's Condition

You should never assume anything about a work's condition. It is generally advisable to seek the opinion of an experienced conservator to evaluate the condition and quality of a work. If there are any questions, a professional conservator's advice could be invaluable, especially about whether a work can be safely restored. A conservator can also guide you on the proper care and display of your work. This is especially important for delicate works on paper, for which exposure to light can be damaging.


Cleaning and Restoring a Work

Restoring and cleaning works of art are not necessarily simple matters, and experienced conservators often disagree.  In many cases, a light cleaning is all that is needed to improve the condition and appearance of your artwork.  In the case of paintings,avoid more serious interventions such as in-painting or lining canvas supports unless absolutely necessary.  If significant in-painting is necessary, be sure that it is reversible.  Please continue to follow this section of the Website for upcoming articles by noted conservators on caring for your artwork.


Documenting Your Collection

A useful international standard for describing and documenting artworks –- Object ID — was created by the Getty Trust and is now administered by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). Use the Object ID Checklist for documenting the items in your collection. If you follow the checklist, you will have a photograph and all the necessary identifying information about your artwork in case it is lost or damaged.  It is too late to take a photograph once the work is missing.  There are several computer programs on the market to facilitate detailed documentation of your collection, from basic databases such as Microsoft Access and FileMaker Pro, to specialized art databases.  If you own a work for which there is a catalogue raisonné or a supplement in progress, be sure to notify the author(s) so that it can be included in the catalogue.




Evaluating art requires experience and knowledge of both art history and the art market. Appraisers research "comparables" to determine the market value of a work. Quality, provenance, condition, uniqueness, demand, and timing all factor into the valuation. There are three main professional appraisal organizations in the U.S. — the Appraisers Association of America, the American Society of Appraisers, and the International Society of Appraisers. Each offers appraisal services and can recommend an appraiser with a particular area of expertise.  Various dealers associations and auction houses also offer professional appraisal services. 



Once you have had your collection appraised, you are ready to decide whether some or all of your artwork should be insured.  Regular homeowners’ policies will cover your artworks up to a certain limit, but in the case of significant collections, this coverage is usually inadequate.  In many cases, all that is needed is a fine arts rider attached to your policy.  There are also insurance companies that specialize in covering works of art.  Please check back on this section of the Website for helpful comments by insurers regarding insuring your collection.



Your valuable artworks should be protected from theft, as well as from potential damage from handling, displaying, storing and shipping. The more valuable a collection, the more sophisticated its protection should be. Security experts recommend a balanced combination of physical, electronic and procedural security systems. Watch in this section of the Collectors' Corner for upcoming articles concerning how to protect your collection.


What to Do if a Work is Stolen or Damaged

Immediately, but certainly within 24 hours, report lost or stolen artwork to your insurance company, the local police and stolen art registries, including the Art Loss Register. You should also consider reporting the theft to the FBI ifyour collection is especially valuable. Use the Object ID format to give a specific description of the object(s), and be sure to include a photograph. In order to be “matched” in a stolen art database, a work needs to be uniquely identifiable. In this era of porous international borders, art can travel fast and very quickly leave the country or region where it was stolen. The sooner you can alert authorities, the better your chance of recovering the work.


Legal Issues

There are many legal and ethical issues to be concerned about when acquiring or owning art. Be aware that collecting standards are evolving and a high burden is now placed on purchasers to ensure that the art they acquire has been legally and ethically obtained.  Areas to be particularly concerned about are looted art from World War II, and art exported from a foreign country in violation of that country's ownership or export laws.  In addition to ethical considerations governing individual conduct, museums and other arts organizations have been developing stricter codes of ethics and professional guidelines regarding acquisition practices. For these issues, you may want to consult the Art Law/Cultural Property section of the IFAR Website, including the area devoted to Professional Guidelines.

We will feature occasional articles on legal issues by attorneys in this section of Collectors' Corner, so please check back on a regular basis.