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The Sale of Misattributed Artworks and Antiques at Auction

Anne L. Bandle

The glamour and mystery of the art auction, gathering interested buyers from across the globe, makes it one of the most fascinating marketplaces in existence. ‘Sleepers’, artworks or antiques that have been undervalued and mislabelled due to an expert’s oversight and consequently undersold, appear regularly. This fascinating new book provides the first extensive study of the phenomenon of sleepers through an in-depth analysis of the contractual relationships, liability and remedies that arise in the context of auction sales.
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Chapter 2: Process of attribution of artworks and antiques

Anne L. Bandle


Before delving into the legal assessment of sleepers, it is important to understand the significance of attribution and misattribution, including their impact on the object, the contracting parties and other stakeholders of the market, and how auction houses use attributions to serve their own purposes.

This chapter examines the techniques and practice guidelines concerning the authentication of art objects. The first section focuses on the main three attribution tools experts and auction houses commonly refer to when assigning attributions. The second section examines the different guidelines and recommendations promulgated by associations and work groups and assesses whether auction houses comply with these guidelines.

When attributing an art object, the expert generally refers to three main attribution tools: connoisseurship or judgment by eye, historical documentation or provenance, and scientific analysis.1

The first attribution tool is connoisseurship or judgment by eye. Connoisseurship is the “sensitivity of visual perception, historical training, technical awareness, and empirical experience needed by the expert to attribute the object.”2 The visual examination of the work enables the expert “to determine whether it looks and ‘feels’ like a work by the artist,”3 by focusing on “composition, brushstroke, colour, surface, and the signature if there is one.”4 The expert interprets the form and the facture specific to the creator.

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