Because of the large auction houses (e.g. Sotheby’s, etc.), the art world has largely accepted certain relatively new words to how artwork (and its authenticity) is described to potential bidders / buyers. The use of the term “attributed to,” “Circle of,” “Follower of,” “Manner of,” and so forth are now used systematically by auction houses. In a number of small studies, it was discovered that terms such as “Attributed to” is used very favorably to describe artwork. Based upon such research, art historian Gary Schwartz developed a unique scale to understand the weight and importance these terms have to an artwork’s auction estimates and hammer prices. Assigning the value “1” to the average low estimate for paintings given to named masters, and calculate the average estimates for the various euphemistic terms used to describe an artist’s attribution or lack thereof, an interesting scale emerges:
0.96 Attributed to…
0.95 Circle of …
0.76 Follower of …
0.61 Generic school (for example, Dutch school, 17th century)
0.45 Manner of …
0.27 After …
This means that large auction houses such as Sotheby’s uses the terms “Attributed to” and “Circle of” to more aggressively suggest a stronger connection to, if not direct authorship of, a painting for example. In other words, based on the estimates auction houses assign to artwork, the art industry now expect these lots, those that cannot be determined to be definitely by an artist, to fetch prices almost as high as accepted originals.
By way of an example, if a certain Old Master’s Paintings generally draw $1M at an auction, then the following paintings would generally be estimated to be worth the following:
A painting attributed to the Old Master would be expected to fetch $960,000;
A painting from the Circle of the Old Master would be expected to fetch $950,000;
A painting from a follower of the Old Master would be expected to fetch $760,000;
A painting from the Old Master’s school of art (Era included) would expect to fetch $610,000;
A painting created in the manner of the Old Master’s paintings would expect to fetch $450,000; and
A painting created after the Old Master (more recent reproductions, etc.) would expect to fetch $270,000.
The above example may surprise many art collectors. However, in many ways are more definitive value scale and artwork description / price estimate regime is needed in the world of fine art. If widely adhered too, such a scale would likely reduce much of the unfounded price fluctuations and market volatility. A collector would better understand the basis for a paintings value and estimated price, increasing market price confidence and bidding / buying decisions.