How Blockchain can improve art provenance and why this is important


Written by
Kim Randall-Stevens

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5 July 2018

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Any investor who has explored the art market will know exactly how important art provenance is when they look to invest in a painting or a sculpture.

This is a point that’s recently been underlined in a reported argument between Swiss dealer Alain Dreyfus and auction house Christie’s. In 2008, Dreyfus purchased an Alfred Sisley painting, only to be contacted in 2016 by art restoration specialists Mondex to tell him that the painting had actually been looted by Nazis in 1940 and had originally belonged to a Jewish family.

Dreyfus readily handed over ownership to Swiss authorities. He feels though that he has been let down by Christie’s art provenance, and that they should have known of the painting’s origins. He has since invoiced their Zurich branch €700,000, demanding to be reimbursed (plus interest).


How blockchain technology can improve art provenance

“Christie’s had to know all of this!” Dreyfus told French publication L’Alsace. “When you sell a painting, you do research.”

Christie’s say that the information Mondex had identifying the piece as stolen wasn’t available at the time of sale; there has been no decision as to whether Mr. Dreyfus will be reimbursed or not for his loss.

Though there’s little doubt that the outcome was right and the Sisley is back where it belongs, it’s an especially frightening prospect for any investor entering the art market. How can they be sure their investments’ art provenance is watertight, and can anything be done to improve art provenance in the future?

For us, the issues around the need to improve art provenance are just one symptom of a market that has remained essentially unchanged for centuries. It’s fair to say that as well as the creative nature of the sector and investment potential it holds, a lot of people are drawn to the art market because of its exclusive nature.

And therein lies a lot of the problem. There is a lot of secrecy in the art industry – some necessary and very welcome for issues such as client anonymity – but some factors surrounding information about individual artworks that we believe could be made more public in the interests of fairness.


Rewriting art provenance rules with Maecenas

Sotheby’s and Christie’s, for instance, oversee approximately 80% of the secondary art market. Auction houses therefore have almost exclusive control over market information; there is no open marketplace, no order books and little historical information available to the masses.

We’re changing that and bringing the art market into the 21st century with the Maecenas blockchain platform, decentralising and opening the art market to make information more freely accessible and allow investors the world over to purchase shares in some of the world’s most famous pieces of art.

This can also contribute to improving overall art provenance thanks to the blockchain’s transparent, incorruptible digital ledger system, which we’re using to make the art world a lot more open concerning individual pieces of art.

You can find out more about the incredible benefits the Maecenas blockchain project is set to bring to the wider art market to make it more accessible and transparent by reading our briefing documents.

Download our Briefing Documents >


Topics: Blockchain

Kim Randall-Stevens

Written by Kim Randall-Stevens

Kim Randall-Stevens was born in Hong Kong and grew up residing across the globe in South East Asia, Europe and the United States . She graduated with a masters degree from Inchbald School of Design and went on to manage David Gill Galleries, a leading contemporary art gallery in London before moving back to Asia in 2007 to continue her work in the arts. With her consulting & art advisory partnership, Kim brings a wealth of experience of 18 years in the world of contemporary and fine art. Based in Singapore, Kim works with collectors, advising and acquiring art for private collections and funds. Kim also consults closely with art galleries, artists and art fairs, advising on strategy and development, most recently, working with the Singapore Contemporary Art Show and the Asia Contemporary Art show in Hong Kong managing their exhibitor relations for the entire south east Asia region.

Please read the following disclaimer >

This blog post is illustrative and for informative and general education and discussion purposes only. It is not, and should not be regarded as “investment advice” or as a “recommendation” regarding a course of action, including without limitation as those terms are used in any applicable law or regulation. This information is provided with the understanding that with respect to the material provided herein (i) MAECENAS is not acting in a fiduciary or advisory capacity under any contract with you, or any applicable law or regulation, (ii) that you will make your own independent decision with respect to any course of action in connection herewith, as to whether such course of action is appropriate or proper based on your own judgment and your specific circumstances and objectives, (iii) that you are capable of understanding and assessing the merits of a course of action and evaluating investment risks independently.. MAECENAS does not purport to and does not, in any fashion, provide tax, accounting, actuarial, recordkeeping, legal, broker/dealer or any related services. You should consult your advisors with respect to these areas and any material with regards to investment decisions. You may not rely on the material contained herein. MAECENAS shall not have any liability for any damages of any kind whatsoever relating to this material. No part of this document may be reproduced in any manner, in whole or in part, without the written permission of MAECENAS except for your internal and/or personal use. This material is being provided to you at no cost and any fees paid by you to MAECENAS are solely general educational purposes. All of the foregoing statements apply regardless of (i) whether you now currently or may in the future become a user of MAECENAS’s platform or products and (ii) the terms contained in any applicable contract between you and MAECENAS.

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