The smart collector: 'Vermeer' works aren't even good fakes

2013-07-28T00:00:00Z The smart collector: 'Vermeer' works aren't even good fakesDanielle Arnet Tribune Media Services The Smart Collector Arizona Daily Star

Q: Are these paintings by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) of any value?

A: I'm going to take a deep breath here and try to be polite. Taking the high road, we will assume that the query is sincere.

To answer, we're simply going to present facts and invite readers to decide if the reader's paintings are valuable.

1. Johannes Vermeer (also called Jan or Johan) was a Dutch painter considered the finest of the Dutch Golden Age. Dates in the query are correct. He specialized in interior scenes of domestic life.

2. Almost all Vermeer paintings are set in small rooms. One notable exception is a long-view harbor scene, "View of Delft," painted around 1660.

His painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is considered a masterpiece, as are "The Music Lesson" and "The Milkmaid." The last two are interior scenes featuring light coming from an adjacent window.

3. Some 36 paintings by Vermeer are known to exist. They hang in the Frick, the Louvre, the National Galleries of Washington and London, the Rijksmuseum, the Met and other prestigious museums. Only one is known to be in a private collection; another is in the British Royal Collection in Buckingham Palace.

4. The first Vermeer painting to come to auction in over 80 years has long been suspected of being a fake. Despite that, the work sold at Sotheby's New York for $30 million in 2004.

Now let's look at the reader's works as seen in images sent.

1. There are two. What are the odds?

2. Each is commercially framed; the frame backs show that they are contemporary middle-grade quality.

3. Both are street scenes in bright colors. People shown are dressed in the old Dutch style, but the building façade in one painting is modern. One mimics a doorway scene often seen in Dutch Baroque works.

4. From the photographed angle, glare suggests a pressed print.

5. Most damning, backs have a commercially printed "certificate of authenticity" that, while so poorly photographed that we cannot read it, appears to look intentionally impressive.

OK, readers: What is your verdict? Mine is that these cannot even rise to the level of fakes intended to deceive. If painted, they were churned out in a mass production studio - most likely in China or the Far East - for export. If printed on canvaslike paper, they were factory-made to be sold in stores from Walmart to low- grade furniture stores.

Value is whatever someone will give you for the pair.

Q: This framed print has been in my family for decades. I can't find anything in searches. Should I hold on to it?

A: Hmmm. Donning my clairvoyant turban, The Great Arnet deduces that the question boils down to: "Is this print valuable and if so, will it become more so?"

To keep it or not is a personal decision for the reader. Most family pieces carry all sorts of emotion and memories. Your call.

Again, poor photography hampers our call, but we do know why the reader cannot ID her piece. A mat covers the bottom of the print where the artist is usually ID'd. We also question if the framed work is actually a print.

The picture showing a stag surrounded by attacking wolves is "The Stag at Bay" based on a painting by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873). An English/ Scottish painter celebrated for his paintings of animals, Landseer was a favorite of sentimental Victorians.

Copies of his "Stag" once appeared in many bourgeois homes, in all sizes. Many were engraved. Some were elaborately framed, favoring massive wooden frames. Today, steel engravings authorized by Landseer, in excellent condition and mounted in handsome frames bring up to $1,000 at auction.

It is impossible to determine exactly what medium the reader has. It could be a hand-colored engraving or pastels done over a print. The frame appears to be a simple modern surround.

Recent auction records show results from $50 to over $1,000 depending on variables already mentioned. The work needs to be seen by a print expert.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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