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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

About signatures on artworks, what you have to know.

- The signature of an artist appeared in the begin of the Renaissance period. Before paintings were made by a group of artistic workers.

The signature became very important for an artist because for him it was a way to say that he had more talent than another one, competitor.

- A signature of an artist may mean also that a painting is finished, he does not need to change anything on it. We see many artworks not signed simply because the author considers that the painting is not finished.

Often next to the signature, an artist may localize the place where he made the painting and also date it, which is for him a way to remind these details and to add it in records. On the back of the painting he may add several notes so numbers and letters referring to his own records which will be helpful to recognize the authenticity of a painting. He sometimes will title the artwork.

- The signature variety is endless. Some artist will use symbols, especially the old masters. Italian 18th century master Giovanni Canal, known as Canaletto used to sign many paintings with the figure of a dog, Whistler used the symbol of the butterfly etc

The variations might be very confusing, but depending the way an artist signs, or with a monogram, or with his last name alone, or with last name and first name, experts may date some paintings made by an artist X. Also especially in contemporary art, artist did not sign the front of their painting to not disrupt the harmony of their design, Vasarely, etc

- Sometimes artist hid their signature or adding notes to a painting by example by writing in reverse or mirror scripts etc. It happened in WWII that Jewish painters were signing their work with a current common last name to hide their true identity.

- Fake signatures, how to spot them?

There are several possibilities, a/ or someone added the signature of a famous artist to a weak or in the style of that artist painting to sell the painting at a much higher price. Usually for trained eyes an expert will notice the weakness and consider the signature as a fake signature

b/ or someone added a signature to a painting but the writing does not have the fluidity in the calligraphy of the signature. It is easy to spot a lack of fluidity in faked signatures.

c/ some paintings may have being made in the style of an artist and they added the fake signature of course. A sole universal recognized authenticator will detect often rapidly the faked style and its signature and deny the authenticity.


Signatures are important; they may give lots of information as explained here. But many artists did not sign their art works, luckily rarely because an artist feels pride in the work he completed and want the world to know his name. Signature is only one piece of the information regarding the painting. The provenance, the state of conservation, the relining of a painting etc. are some of the elements of that web.

Article inspired from web magazines, Journal d'un fou d'art, Journal des arts, Sotheby's, Christie's. Drouot, etc

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