Montreal-based appraiser has advised many prominent families and Canadian corporations, including CBC and Bank of Montreal

Karen Thomson is an accomplished artist who has also tapped into her business psyche to develop an art consultancy to meet the needs of the art marketplace. Her practice includes appraisals for collectors, estate planning, insurance valuations, individual and corporate acquisitions, and sales; sometimes representing her clients at Sotheby’s, Christies and other reputable art auction houses in New York, Toronto and other major art markets.

“I have a B.A. in Visual Arts from the University of Western Ontario and a Master of Arts in Art History from the University of Toronto; and I’m also a working artist. Somewhere along the line, I asked myself how I could make more money in the field that is so much a part of me. We live in a society that measures everything, including the value of art. I realized that there is an important role for appraisal professionals who are involved in placing a value on art; paintings, drawings, sculpture – virtually all forms of art.”

Karen did her research and enrolled in the International Society of Appraisers program in Chicago. “It’s a rigorous program because of the importance of authentication and the art values. We have to update our professional qualifications every two years, and have a complete renewal of our certification every five years. I’ve been a member of the ISA since 2006.”

“There are two main reasons people have their art collections appraised; the first is for insurance purposes and the second is to place a value for a donation or estate planning. Often donations and estate planning are closely linked – the donation being made to offset estate taxes.”

There are several elements in the valuation process. “The big item is ‘authentication’ – making sure that the artwork is what it claims to be. We examine the documentation that forms part of the provenance. For paintings, there is usually some information on the back of the work. The next part is to research what this artist’s work has been selling for – to establish a retail value. I work with a network of galleries, and there is often a consultancy fee required for them to share this information, because it involves time and work on their part; and accuracy is important.”

Karen was tasked to value the two hundred art works of the Blema and Arnold Steinberg Collection. “This was a wonderful experience; that also involved producing a book, referencing each work of art. Each work had to be authenticated, and we had to copyright each piece. Mr. Steinberg loved his collection, and he enjoyed visiting the living artists in their studios. The project took three years – and had a sad ending. Mr. Steinberg told me that he wanted his book to be ‘something that feels good when I hold it’. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack on the very day that the books were being delivered to his office – and he never got to ‘hold’ his book.”

More recently, Karen was given the contract to appraise the Kolber Estate and to prepare it for auction in Toronto. “Because of the importance of accuracy in appraisals and the tax implications, our professional ethics and transparency must be impeccable.”

There are occasions when Karen assists in selling a collection or parts of it. “I often work with Cowley-Abbott in Toronto. They’re reputable, younger and not as high profile as Sotheby’s or Christies, and have more favorable terms and conditions for the vendors – my clients.”

From 2008 to 2015 Karen worked with CBC and Radio Canada to fulfill a Federal Government program initiated by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau; to acquire and install art works produced by Canadian artists. “I crisscrossed the country many times for that assignment, and developed relationships with local restorers and conservers in each city. For the ‘new’ building in Toronto, we discovered that they had a wealth of drawings for costume designs, posters, and animations that we could use as stills. Frédéric Back won Oscars for his 1982 animated film Crac! and The Man Who Planted Trees in 1987. He helped in the selection of some stills and their adaption to wall art.”

Another corporate client was the Bank of Montreal. “I was hired by the bank as a consultant to purchase art for the main Bank of Montreal branch in Calgary.”

Karen also consults with people who are building a collection or acquiring a particular work. “I had a client who had purchased a large home in Town of Mount Royal, and she had lots of empty wall space! I helped her to fill those walls and we had a lot of fun doing it – and it didn’t cost her a fee from me, because I was paid by the artists whose work she purchased.”

In closing, Karen advises collectors to keep their documentation when acquiring art. “Keep all your papers in that drawer where you keep other important documents, because some day – the government is going to be involved. It could be a donation, your estate or a sale, and you’ll need to prove that initial value. But above all, have fun buying your art and enjoy it every day!”

Karen Thomson’s listing can be found on the International Society of Appraisers at: under the Find-an-Appraiser tab. Karen Thomson’s own art can be found in the Museum of Civilization (Gatineau, Qc.), as well as in many corporate and private collections in Canada, the United States, England, France and China. To contact Karen by email: [email protected]

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