Thursday, July 21, 2005

On Provenance and Property

Recent discussions on some tribal art chat groups have centered on something called, “provenance.”

It refers to the pedigree of an object of tribal art that may be offered for sale. In African tribal art in particular, where antiquity gives an object extra value in the mind of potential buyers, provenance is an important way to determine if the object is a real antique and/or authentic in terms of tribal use.

Seemingly, if the object was purchased many years ago and held in important collections, it is perceived to be old and authentic. Still, who is to say it wasn’t a reproduction when it was first acquired? Or that the attribution to previous owners and collections isn’t phony?

Bottom line from our perspective is that you only purchase objects that you personally love, regardless of their history.

If they are priced extraordinarily high because they are claimed to be authentic antiques, due diligence is in order. Take every promise with a grain of salt. Ask for proof of the claims that are made, even if made in the most reputable of galleries. Ask for a Certificate of Authenticity and a written promise that an object can be returned and your purchase price refunded if it is found to be something different than you are told it is. Any reputable dealer will give you these assurances. If they won’t give them, run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.

Of course, if you are buying for décor purposes or to grow a more modest collection, buying what you like is a pretty good guide. But why not have objects that are stylistically correct for the cultures they purport to represent. There are some fine books on African art that can show you what to look for. A little research is a good investment.

On our Web site at we offer some excellent objects of African tribal art. We don’t claim that they are equal to what is in the museums of Europe but many of them have museum backgrounds. And they are priced commensurate with their quality, authenticity and age. If you see something you like, make us an offer. Maybe we can make a deal.

Thanks for reading this blogletter from Aboriginals: Art of the First Person. If you would like to subscribe, you can use, or by clicking on the “sign up” icon, if it appears on your page.


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