Can paintings by unknown artists be valuable?

Is it true that paintings lose their value if they are not signed?

They say beauty is subjective and is in the eye of the beholder, but does the value of a painting get capped at a certain point if it is by an unknown artist? 


Leonardo Da Vinci is usually regarded as one of history's most skilled and accomplished artists. However, one of his most renowned paintings, the Mona Lisa, was never signed or dated. So, are unsigned artworks worth anything?

Artwork will be valued mainly based on the artist, provided it can be authenticated. Despite the lack of an official signature, the Mona Lisa is included in the Guinness Book of World Records as having "the highest insurance value ever for a painting in history." 


Is there such thing as a valuable painting without a signature? 

The owner's or analyst's job is considerably simpler when an original painting has a pedigree or can be traced back to the creator. The absence of an artist's signature does not inherently reduce a painting's worth; nevertheless, locating the artist will almost certainly boost it. Museums and appraisers must be able to trace the painting's history and determine its validity.

There are various techniques to study and identify the origins of a picture if it is thought to be by a well-known artist. Unfortunately, several of these approaches are complex, time-consuming, and costly.

The following are some of the most prevalent ways for tracing an original artwork's origins: 

  • Looking for paperwork / provenance
  • Looking through a catalogue raisonné
  • Conducting laboratory tests


Proving A Paintings Value with Paperwork

For this reason, art sales are generally recorded throughout history. Collecting the papers to show ownership is an excellent approach to figuring out where the artwork came from. Receipts are not a novel notion, but they will be valuable in determining the history of a painting.

It's as simple as glancing at the back of a picture to learn about its history. To confirm its ownership and assist document the piece's history, notable art collectors would generally sign the back of the picture.

You can assume that the painting's present owner can verify that a noteworthy person formerly held it. If a well-known artist also painted the piece, the work's value will skyrocket! The key to making a valuation easy for the owner and appraiser is documentation. There are additional options to use if that choice is not readily available.


 Peter Spens, Winter night south from 80 stand, 2010

Sold for £4,000


Check the Artists Catalogue Raisonné

For well-known artists, there is a resource called a catalogue raisonné, or critical catalogue. A catalogue raisonné is a comprehensive inventory of an artist's recognised works. In addition, this list discusses many features of the painting and gives extensive, crucial information in print or online through the Catalogue Raisonné Database


Conducting laboratory tests

Although scientific testing is unlikely to prove that a painting is that of a specific artist, it can assist with supporting or disproving dates and information. Testing can help to determine age of the canvas, paint pigments, paper, plate, metal, board and ceramic. X-rays can reveal information below the surface, such as a different painting by the artist abandoned in favour of something else.


The team of experts at Dawsons are always happy to provide a free verbal appraisal and auction valuation, regularly consigning an array of wonderful items to our monthly Fine Art & Antiques sale. We can also provide insurance valuations, where required.


Please do get in touch if you have any fine art or antiques that you are keen to value.

We would love to hear from you: 

0207 431 9445 /