Art Auction Primer

Evaluating art for auction - 2

For a piece of art of have real value, there must be collectors seeking that artist. These are artist who are currently being sold in galleries or at auction. Auction artists (usually deceased) offer better sales opportunity than gallery artists for auctions are always willing to sell the piece while galleries are usually not unless the artist is deceased. If the artist does have a secondary market reputation, that is,he or she is currently being sold at auctions then they will show up with an internet search. In most cases, the search will take you to a site offering auction information. Sometimes that information will include actual prices for work or they might offer their auction reference services at some fee. Even if you have to pay for this information, the cost is always much less that what a formal appraisal would cost.

A collector can develop a fairly decent estimate for the value of their work by comparing it to similar pieces that have sold at auction. A professional can do a more accurate appraisal, but this preliminary objective is to determine some broad range of value for the artist's work. 

From this initial research, the collector can decide upon a course of action. If the research has been unsuccessful in finding the artist, the piece can probably only sold on a local auction for low decorative value. Living artists, who sell work at relatively low prices are almost equally difficult to sell.

However, if the artist has sold for substantial price at auction, then auction selling is a solid possibility. Perhaps, at this stage, it may be wise to consult the services of an art professional for, if nothing else, to insure the originality of the work, and perhaps even the authenticity. With today's reproduction technology, it is always not easy to distinguish an original piece from a reproduction. And even when originality is determined, authenticity can also be difficult to determine if there is no strong provenance that accompanies the work.

The Medium

Most artists work in many different mediums. This is particularly true for the 19th and 20th Century artists. The prime and most desirable medium is oil. In most cases, an oil painting will command many times the price that a similarly sized watercolor painting will bring. Between oil and watercolor, there is acrylic and pastel. They too will sell for less than oil, but usually more than watercolor.

Secondary media include gouache and tempera with gouache a variant of watercolor and tempera similar to oil. On the scale of desirability, drawing has the least value.

It is difficult to name a significant historic artist who was not predominantly an oil painting, but there are a few artists whose watercolors are almost as esteemed as their oils. For instance, English landscapists Joseph Mallord Turner and and John Constable are highly prized for their watercolors. But even for these artist, their oils sell for much higher prices than their watercolors.

Original work is always more valuable than reproductive work. Rembrandt may be the first major artist that commercially exploited reproductive art such as woodblocks and etchings although woodblock prints were common in the Renaissance. German artist Albrecht Dürer produced profoundly beautiful woodcuts.

In the 19th Century, there is an emergence of lithographs with Toulouse-Lautrec as a leading proponent of the medium. Originally lithographs were produced by drawing with a crayon on a smooth stone or metal plate. Today, a modern lithograph is virtually anything that is printed on a press. Whereas historical lithographs were created expressly for that reproduction, today any painting can be photographed and then printed as a lithograph.

As a general rule, reproductive work must be that of the major artists to have significant auction value. Reproductive work of secondary artists rarely sells for more than a few hundred dollars.  

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