This is an article that should be a book... Patina and Paint, and how to recognize authenticity.
It takes years of looking and touching to finally be able to recognize period paint and proper oxidation of the paint, and patina that is authentic. However, I am going to attempt to show that to you in a series of photographs of one item. One extremely rare item: very early 19th century papier mache Chinese figures.
When looking for authenticity of paint and patina, the first place to start is in the actual construction of the piece. In other words: is it right to begin with?? It is just the same as looking at clothing or a home or a car: if the basic piece ain't right, it doesn't matter how much fabric and paint you throw at it, it's still going to be junk.
Looking at the Chinese figures, note all of the photographs. The scale and proportion and construction of the figures are alike. They are perfectly proportioned and are crafted by the same hand. In other words, these two pieces are an original pair to one another.
Secondly, note the oxidation of the pieces. On the faces, fronts, and backs the oxidation is the same. Slight areas reveal the original polychrome original colors; however, much of that coloration is now faded or lost revealing the original papier mache beneath it.
Thirdly, note the original colors. They would have been very bright and bold. However, they would have faded and oxidized over time. These pieces do not have design decoration; however, another tell-tale sign of a period piece is an authentic design. This takes years of learning to discern the difference between period and out-of-period designs.
When looking at fakes or pieces that have been altered to appear old, take into consideration the following points:
1. Is the construction of the piece period, honest, and authentic? (More importantly: do you or the dealer have the expertise to determine that authenticity?)
2. Is the oxidation consistent? Too frequently in fakes or out of period pieces, the oxidation is not uniform and a heavy hand in the wrong places is evident.
3. Is the paint color right? This takes time to learn, but basically, we're looking for the correct paint colors and correct oxidation of those colors.
4. Is the design right? Too often incorrect and out of period design details give away a fake.
I will blog on this subject frequently, and attempt to show you period pieces as well as fakes. I will use paintings, painted furniture, and unpainted furniture photos to help you see the differences. As for the best sources to learn from: you must take the time, and a very long time, to go and look at pieces. And you must go to the very best dealers. Not the dealers in your city, but the New York dealers at the top of the market and the best museums in both the U.S. and abroad. Almost everything that shows up on the market today has new paint on it: very, very little remains original in the year 2008. As such, in order to learn, you must go to the best even if you cannot afford it or have no interest in buying it. Otherwise, you will just be learning about paint from bad paint and people who do not know.
Want to learn how to really discern? Then start at the top, not the bottom.