Color of your Painting's Canvas

Dr. Lori shows you how to tell the age of a painting by looking at its canvas.

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Most of us are scrutinizing the front of a painting, when a painting’s age and origin are usually revealed on the back. When it comes to original oil or acrylic paintings on canvas, the back of the painting’s canvas is a treasure trove of information as well as other elements on the back. You just need to know what to look for.

Stretcher bars and the construction of a work of art give you only a partial answer to questions like how old is my painting? What is its country of origin?

Experts look for color

When it comes to identifying and evaluating original painting, I advise you to look for what experts look for—the color of the canvas. Each canvas has a specific and identifying color. For instance, canvases from the 1800s have a distinct brown or dark beige color and an open weave. An open weave is where the holes of the woven canvas are spread apart and you can see open spaces. A canvas from the 1900s typically is a closed weave canvas and after circa 1925 has a bright white color of the canvas. When you compare a 19th Century canvas to a 20th Century canvas, the color will tell you almost immediately which canvas is older. When I was working at the Yale Art Gallery learning about art connoisseurship, there was a joke that the color of a canvas is just like age spots on our skin–darker means older and lighter means younger.

Tips to identify where your painting was made and how old it is by simply looking at the back of your painting’s canvas.

Get an online appraisal of your painting from Dr. Lori.