Researching Works on Paper
‘Works on paper’ is a broad term that today includes any artwork that uses paper as its support. Some media such as prints, artists’ books and photographs often exist in ‘multiples’, that is, they are created as one or more identical copies. Others such as drawings, watercolors, collages, and monotypes are one-of-a-kind or unique.
Key to understanding your collection is knowing the right questions to ask. To get you started, here is a list that will assist in your identification and research of a work on paper. It may take some detective work, but what you learn can be extremely rewarding and further your enjoyment of your art.
- Is the artwork signed or have other identification marks or monograms? Some signatures are very apparent, while other artists work their signature or mark into the composition itself. A good place to begin looking is in the lower parts of the work. Modern prints, for example, are often signed in the margin below the image with an edition number. Signatures may be hard to read, but dictionaries of artists’ signatures and marks can help. Once you have identified the artist’s name, consult biographical dictionaries to learn some basic, important facts about the artist.
- Is it dated? Artists may date the work with their signature, or it may be noted on the back of the work. If there is no date, look for clues in the work to determine an approximate date range. How long has it belonged to you or your family? Is there anything depicted in the image that would help date it?
- What is the title or subject matter of the work? Not all works have a title. If yours is titled, it might be noted in the margin or on the back of the work. Regardless, make note of the subject matter as this may help determine the artist or date.
- What medium is it? Can you identify it as a print, photograph, drawing, or other medium? Is it unique or a multiple? Once this is determined, you can begin to investigate what specific process or materials are used.
- What is the history of the work? Knowing the provenance (record of ownership and exhibition history) of the work is very helpful in determining its authenticity and monetary worth.
Once you have answered as many of these questions as you can, a public library can assist you with more specific research and direct you to helpful books and other resources. Additionally, the Toledo Museum of Art Reference Library and its staff is available to a help visitors conduct research.
For Further Research
Below is a small selection of resources and handbooks to further acquaint you with works on paper and your knowledge of their different techniques and processes.
Drawings and Watercolor
Goldman, Paul. Looking at Prints, Drawings and Watercolours: A Guide to Technical Terms. Revised Edition. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2006.
A companion reference guide to Looking at Photographs (see below), this portable glossary features color illustrations and provides definitions and descriptions of the most commonly used technical terms related to these three media. Directed to the enthusiastic student or collector or art.
Photography and Printmaking
1. Baldwin, Gordon and Jürgens, Martin. Looking at Photographs: A Guide to Technical Terms. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009.
An illustrated glossary of photographic terms and techniques from the earliest processes to the most recent digital technology. An invaluable resource for those wishing to increase their understanding of photography and the history of this evolving medium.
2. Benson, Richard. The Printed Picture. NY: The Museum of Modern Art, 2009.
A highly accessible account of the changing technology of picture-making from the Renaissance to the present with a special emphasis upon photographic processes since its invention. Particularly strong on the overlap between printmaking and photography processes and digital inventions of our time.
3. Gascoigne, Bamber. How to Identify Prints: A Complete Guide to mechanical processes from woodcut to inkjet. NY: Thames and Hudson, 4th edition, 2004.
An invaluable resource for identifying a number of different print techniques. This guide is an excellent tool for understanding processes through the assistance of clear descriptions accompanied by enlarged details. Essential for the print connoisseur.
4. Griffiths, Antony. Prints and Printmaking: An Introduction to History and Techniques. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 1996.
An excellent introduction to the different printmaking techniques with helpful illustrations of details to demonstrate the effects that can be achieved. Woodcuts, engraving, etching, mezzotint, and lithography are among the many processes explained, illustrated, and placed within a historical context. Also provides a useful glossary.
5. Ivins, William. How Prints Look. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1984.
First published in 1943, considered the classic for the identification of various types of prints and the techniques involved in producing them.
6. Hults, Linda C., The Print in the Western World: An Introductory History. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1st Edition, 1996.
A comprehensive history of the printmaking in the western world from its origins in the fifteenth through the late twentieth century with illustrations and bibliography for further research. Invaluable for both the serious print collector and student.
How to Care for Works on Paper
In order to get the most enjoyment from your work and retain its value, it is important to care for it properly. Below are some excellent resources.
- Bachmann, Konstanze, ed. Conservation Concerns: A Guide for Collectors and Curators. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
- Clapp, Anne F. Curatorial Care of Works on Paper. Oberlin, Ohio: Intermuseum Conservation Association, 1978.
- Dolloff, Francis W., and Roy L. Perkinson. How to Care for Works of Art on Paper. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 4th edition, 1985.
- Ellis, Margaret H. The Care of Prints and Drawings. Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History, 1987.
- Zigrosser, Carl, and Christa M. Gaehde. A Guide to the Collecting and Care of Original Prints. New York: Crown Publishers, 1969.
American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works
Regional Alliance for Preservation (RAP)
A consortium of regional conservation centers.
How Much Is It Worth?
There are many factors that determine a work’s value, including its condition, provenance, and personal taste and trends in the market. You may want to consult online price guides such as Gordon’s Print Price Annual and auction catalogues to obtain an approximate value.
As a matter of policy, the Toledo Museum of Art is not permitted to authenticate works of art or make recommendations for local appraisers, dealers or galleries. However, the following online sites, societies and organizations can further assist in appraising your artwork:
Online Pricing Resources
- Gordon’s Print Price Annual
- Contemporary Print Portfolio
- Lawrence’s Dealer Print Prices International
American Society of Appraisers
Appraisers Association of America
Art Dealers Association of America