The difference between ‘after’ and ‘attributed to’ in art

New to the art market? Know what to buy and what not to buy! There is a huge difference in meaning for words like ‘attributed to’ and ‘after’. We would like to share our knowledge about the meaning and the differences in this article.

‘Attributed to’

Let’s start with ‘attributed to’. ‘Attributed to’ is commonly used, whether appropriate or inappropriate, at online auctions. The combination of a ticking clock, other candidates and actually too little time to do proper research is a pitfall that many inexperienced buyers fall into. The buyer thinks he hit the jackpot with loads of money rolling in, but unfortunately, the chance is close to nothing. 

The words ‘Attributed to’ may only be used by a recognized and respected authority in the art community. This authority has done years and years of intensive study about the artist’s history, works of art and lifestyle and is an extremely experienced buyer, collector and reseller of the works of art made by that artist. The authority may have personally known the artist, the artist’s family, or even be a family member. Publishing articles about the artist, giving lectures or online classes, or publish a book. Anything that enhances the authority’s knowledge helps to increase credibility to use the words ‘attributed to’ when selling a painting online, in store or at an auction. 

So don’t let yourself get fooled by this sales trick. You can’t find anything online about the authority who claims that the work is an ‘attributed to..’? Don’t buy the work! But what if there is a lot to find about the authority and it looks legit? 

There must be explained clearly in detail why the authority believes to have found that work of art which is ‘attributed to .. ‘. Think about a report with details such as: signature, signature style, signature conditions, framing, mounting, subject(s), colors, textures, brush strokes, size, materials, style, composition, construction, other known similar works, other experts with their opinion about the work, similarity in signatures with other works, similarity in materials used and so on. This report must be signed with contact details so that the buyer can contact the authority if he or she has more questions regarding the work. 


The word after is often used in museums, art galleries and antique stores. The meaning is very simple, it is a copy of that specific artist’s work where the word ‘after’ is placed before or after the artist’s name. It is very important not to forget that the word ‘after’ has nothing to do with ‘faking’ the artist’s work.

An (unknown) artist can paint a copy of a famous work which is exhibited in a museum. This copy if not a fake, because the (unknown) artist is not claiming to be the original artist of the work. When the (unknown) artist wants to sell his own copy, the word ‘after’ is placed before or after the original artist’s work. Now, the work is not a fake, but a nicely made copy.

Using the word ‘after’ for copies has already been done for centuries. But there are different levels of ‘afters’. An ‘after’ can already be an ‘after’ when an (unknown) artist is copying in 2020 the work ‘The starry night’ by Van Gogh. The (unknown) artist is far removed from the original artist by time and association. A very high level of an ‘after’ is when the original artist is involved or approves the ‘after’. Even an original signature by the original artist can be placed on the ‘after’.

Even tough an ‘after’ is a copy, the value and quality can still be very high and ‘afters’ will stay highly collectible.