Want To Buy An Antique Oil Painting? Better Make Sure It Is Real

If you are planning to purchase an antique oil painting, it can be easy to come home with a bunch of junk if you do not know what to look for. Below are some tips you can use when you start shopping to ensure you are getting what you paid for.

Canvas Color

The first thing you should do is to turn the painting around and look at the back. This is a big clue on what year the art is from. For example, if the back is a dark beige or brown, the art came from the 1800s. Art this old will also have an open weave, which means there are tiny holes in the canvas that look like small open spaces.

Art made from the 1900s generally has a closed weave, and the back is a bright white color. Basically, the darker the color, the older the art.  

If the art you are looking at is covered in the back, ask the seller to remove it so you can see what color it is. If they refuse, the art is likely not antique.


Hold the artwork up to the light, and look at the paint with a magnifying glass. If the painting was actually done using the artist's hand with a paintbrush, you will see that there are brushstrokes that vary in texture and size.

Turn the painting over up to the light to look through the other side. The light coming through should be varied, as the artist uses varying degrees of heaviness when painting. For example, the paint may be thicker on the trunk of a tree, and a lighter paint for someone's face. If the artwork is not authentic but instead a lithograph, all the paint will have the same degree of thickness.


Hold the painting up to your nose and smell. Oil paintings have an oily fragrance for a long time, as it takes many years for the oil to completely dry out. For this reason, if the oil painting you are going to purchase still has the oily fragrance, it is not an antique.

If you determine the artwork is authentic, you should still take it to a professional appraiser (like those at Davis & Associates-Marc Davis) to make sure. They can do a detailed inspection, and when they are finished can tell you approximately what the painting is worth. They will also provide you with documentation as to their findings.