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Research

Researching Your Art: First Steps

Family Group by John Koch

Like any good detective, begin with what you know. Gather the following information. What is the title or subject of the work? Where and when was it made? If you do not know the exact year, perhaps you can guess an approximate date. How long has the work belonged to you or your family? Check family records and interview relatives who might know something about the artwork. If you recently acquired your treasure, try to obtain as many details as possible from the seller, dealer, or previous owner.

If you are researching a painting, can you determine its style? Is it realistic or impressionistic? Is it abstract or representational?

After reviewing the information you have, determine what else you want to learn. Such questions will guide your research.

Many printed and online resources can help you investigate your artwork. The best place to start is your public library. There a librarian should be able to direct you to helpful books, clipping files, and online databases or indexes. If you live near a university or art museum, check to see if their libraries are open to the public. They will likely have many of the specialized art resources listed in this guide. Do not overlook state or local historical societies, as they may also have a wealth of information. Archives and art museum libraries are usually open by appointment only, and you will need to contact them in advance for access to their materials.



Pictured: John Koch, Family Group, 1951, oil, 24 x 20 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Barbara Wood

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