Provenance: Why Should it Matter to You?

Image taken from Kofi Agorsor: The Colours of Life Exhibition on March 2022 at ARTIANA, DIFC

People have been collecting art for the past hundred years, so determining where a piece comes from is often a combination of tracking an artwork’s history and documentation.

Essentially, provenance is a record of ownership of a work of art used as a guide to determine its authenticity and quality. It establishes an artwork’s collectible significance and captures its ownership history all the way back to the artist’s studio.

But why is it so important for art collecting?

1. Establishing the ownership history

Provenance provides an ownership record of an artwork which is a critical foundation for assessing its authenticity. It shows the overview of who a piece has belonged to and where it passed through over time, be it auction houses, galleries, dealers who sold it, and art exhibitions it was shown. Older works, especially those several hundred years old or older, are sometimes given a symbolic seal of approval through a provenance document.

2. Establish the authenticity

Proving the authenticity of art based on provenance was previously seen as an infallible way to verify its authenticity. Now there is more than one way to establish it. However, collecting genuine works of art is easier with provenance. It’s history, even if accumulated for thousands of years, can help verify authenticity, provide buyers assurance and reduce risks in buying.

3. Valuation

Verified provenance can prove the authenticity of a piece and increase its value tenfold, enhancing its collectible status and making it in demand and invaluable.

4. Determine the historical significance of an artwork

An artwork with interesting provenance tells a story of how it changed hands through time, ideally from the artist to its current owner – which might place it in remarkable historical moments or hands of important and famous people. This adds story and gravitas to the pieces by giving them cultural and historical importance.

5. Guide collectors

Knowing a piece of art’s provenance can help buyers determine which pieces are worth investing in. Failing to consider the relevance of provenance documents may cause disputes regarding ownership, authenticity, and value one day. Thus, even where authenticity is not currently an issue, an inaccurate or incomplete provenance could still give rise to a claim in the future. An impeccable provenance can be used to mitigate this risk.

ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 41 – Classical, Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium

Maqbool Fida Husain – ‘Islam’ – 1992 – acrylic on canvas – 78 x 139 in. – Lot 41

ARTIANA’s upcoming online auction of Classical, Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art on March 23-27, 2017 highlights this distinct work of Maqbool Fida Husain. This painting is the most valuable lot in the upcoming sale, both in terms of price and history behind the artwork. 

‘Theorama’ is a ten-panel series that was influenced by Husain’s past preoccupations with theosophy and his experiences as a billboard painter. Composed in the early 90s, Theorama tributes ten different faiths — highlighting what Husain sees as the finer aspects in each; these are strung together in the series to symbolize a sense of unity or a common thread. ‘Islam’ is Husain’s masterly depiction of the Muslim faith.

To the left is a Sufi saint with his finger of ‘Kalema e Shahadah’ raised. The black and majestic cube of Kaabah, inscribed with the Arabic ‘Kaaf’, is positioned at the heart of the image, emphasizing its prominence in no uncertain terms. A circle beside the Kaabah represents the dome of The Prophet’s mosque in Madinah and is inscribed with the alphabet ‘Meem’. ‘Al-buraq’, the lightning horse, gallops across the sky to the right while the ‘Al-Shaqqul Qamar’, the splitting moon — an Islamic symbol of the scientific temper — watches over. ‘Al-Loh-al-Mehfooz’, the book of Judgement Day also sits prominently to the right.

This simple yet substantial homage to Islam is brought about through a keen use of color and line. These, along with tasteful use of religious motifs and symbolism, assembled together with intimacy and personal reverence, lends this painting the distinctness for which it is known.

Auction Catalogue-South Asian Art ‘Classical, Modern and Contemporary’-March 23-27, 2017

ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 46 – Classical, Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium

SH Raza – ‘Emergence’ – 1988 – acrylic on canvas – 31.5 x 31.5 in. – Lot 46

Sayed Haider Raza’s ‘Emergence’, published on the cover and inside of ‘Raza’ by Alain Bonfand and the cover lot of our upcoming auction on March 23-27, 2017.

In his meditations on colour and their emotive qualities, Raza was taken back to his childhood. It was a voyage, so to speak, back to the moist and pregnant ground where experiences were naked and free from the shell of words. This apprehending of the ‘source’ — the point of emergence — is a spiritual element captured best in the Bindu. This is arguably why it has remained pivotal to Raza’s repertoire.

Drawing from Raza’s own words: “The point, the Bindu, symbolises the seed-bearing the potential of all life, in a sense. It’s also a visible form containing all the essential requisites of line, tone, colour, gesture, and space.”

Since the 1970s, Raza began to visibly emphasize his Indian identity. This is evidenced in his frequent visits to India. His concepts and colors at the time were distinctly akin to Indian spiritual thought but their plasticity, however, remained their most striking quality. The Bindu figured prominently in his paintings in this period. It was a starting point that brought together geometry, color, space and several aspects of Indian aesthetics. The circle, one recalls, is a figure within which every geometric shape can be featured.

The late 1970s witnessed a considerable change in his style of painting. He preferred basic geometric figures and the primary palette in his compositions. The Bindu was reinstated in ‘Emergence’ (1988) as the centre of his contemplations: a radiant circle emerging from within a square, flanked by distinct carves of bright colour. The Bindu is black but illumined — a sighting of the source in the silent minute of meditation.

Understanding Raza: Many ways of looking at a Master, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2013, p. 52

Auction Catalogue-South Asian Art ‘Classical, Modern and Contemporary’-March 23-27, 2017