Fine art collectors and historians care deeply about the provenance of the art works…and if you are spending significant money on a piece of glass art, you should too.

The word provenance derives from the French provenir meaning “to originate”. It is a history of the ownership of a work of art. It helps establish:

Authenticity – works by highly valued artists can be forged or attributed to other artists. Although the provenance document of an art work is easily forged, a legitimate provenance is supported by key pieces of other evidence.

Valuation – establishing the chain of ownership of a piece, and its authenticity, can help bolster value. Conversely, the valuation of a wonderful piece may be compromised by the lack of convincing provenance.

Ownership – there are cases where the ownership of a work of art, and associated rights of display, reproduction, etc, may be in question. The provenance of the piece may be one factor in establishing ownership.

The world of glass art is only recently coming to terms with such formalities, but they are important.

Consider this fictitious example. Although expanded and spread out to one line per owner for ease of understanding, you may find these expressed as a single run-on phrase:

Eurotrope by Lino Tagliapietra

Acquired by Ranston Galleries of Bloomfield Hills, in 1989;
Sold to Mrs. James Gibson, in 1990 (a similar smaller piece sold separately);
By whom sold Sotheby’s New York, March 24, 2005, lot 36, for $20,000 to B. Claussen.
Sold to James Sketcher on September 10, 2008 to Jane Trusty;
Her deceased sale by Christie’s, Chicago December 2, 2007, lot 73 for $35,000 to Nancy Little;
Sold to MuranoMidwest Gallery of Campton Hills, in 2016

Assuming there are documents backing up these transactions, it looks convincing at first glance. However, there are some red flags. First, there is no clear record of the sale from Lino to Ranston Galleries. Secondly, there is a break in the chain of custody between Claussen and Trusty with no record of sale (signified by the ‘.’ rather than ‘;’ separating the transactions). Finally, the questionable item was “laundered” through a reputable auction house and sold to a legitimate gallery.

Consider a better version of this story:

Created by Lino Tagliapietra in 1988 (signed artist statement and photo);
Acquired by Ranston Galleries of Bloomfield Hills, in 1989 (catalog page);
Sold to Mrs. James Gibson, in 1990 (sales receipt);
Her deceased sale for $35,000 to Nancy Little, September 10, 2007 (estate sale record);
Sold to MuranoMidwest Gallery of Campton Hills, in 2016

With no household name auction houses, this provenance might seem less impressive. However the initial transfer from the artist and the private sales are documented and there are no breaks in the chain of ownership. However, good provenance in a secondary sale begins with the primary (usually gallery) sale.

MuranoMidwest provides originating provenance that cannot be questioned – photos of the artist with their work, “fine art” documentation for imported works and the assurance that you are the first private owner of the object.

This is the foundation you need to build the provenance of your collection. It will establish that the works you have purchased are authentic, support their value and document your legitimate ownership of the art.