Provenance is a record or proof of authenticity or record of past ownership regarding a distinguished work of art. Once a work of art has entered the secondary market, it has achieved a history of ownership hence now has a provenance record.
When a work of art is sold by a private art dealer, an auction house or reputable gallery, it is accompanied by a record that is basically an inventoried list of previous owners. This is sometimes identified by the name or location e.g. “Private Collection, Zurich”), as well as by the names of art dealers, auction houses and galleries that have bought and sold the work. Specific dates of auction sales and the years collectors owned the work are often included.
In addition to provenance, the record will also indicate the artwork’s exhibition history. Inclusion of an artwork in one or more important museum exhibitions enhances the work’s provenance record; and so, does any mention of the artwork in reputable literature.
Provenance is often one of the tools used in establishing an artwork’s authenticity, title and value. An unbroken provenance accounts for the whereabouts of a work from the time of its creation to the present day, and the nearer a work's pedigree approaches this ideal, the more secure its attribution is likely to be.
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