How to Sell a Painting by a Famous Artist

Selling Art

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If you or your family happens to have a painting by a famous artist, you may be wondering how to sell it. As you might imagine, the process involves more than just posting your fine art online and hoping you get a fair price. 

To get started, you may want to contact an auction house that specializes in art, not just a general auction house.

Taking Artwork to an Auction House for Assessment

The big-name auction houses include Sotheby's and Christie's, but it's worth doing a little online research to find a local specialist.

Contact the auction house's valuations department to have the painting assessed, either in person or by photo provisionally — Christie's offer an online free estimate service and Sotheby's auction estimates by mail. You may well pay a fee for a full evaluation, so be sure to ask, and you will pay commission for the sale.

If you've got any paperwork such as an appraisal associated with the painting, be sure to mention this as it helps establish the provenance of the painting. If you don't have an appraisal, it's in your best interest to get one before you proceed with any sale.

Seeking Appraisals of Fine Art Paintings

To establish the authenticity of your fine art painting, get it appraised by a professional. Ideally, you'll want to find an appraiser who is part of the Appraisers Association of America. This group is comprised of experts who are former curators at museums or auction houses and includes some members who appear on Antiques Roadshow and other similar television shows.

The appraisers' association is certified according to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). You can check for members of the Appraisers Association on the organization's website.

Once you have your appraisal in hand, you'll have an idea of what your painting is worth. You'll also have an expert opinion which you can present to a potential seller, so they know they're not being ripped off. 

Selling Artwork to a Gallery

If you decide not to go the auction house route or want to sell your painting more quickly, you may approach a local art gallery. Try to find a gallery that specializes in the genre your painting belongs to, for example; a modern art gallery is probably not going to have expertise in selling Renaissance paintings.

And you should decide whether you want to sell your painting outright, or let the gallery do some of the work for you by putting it on consignment.

Whether to Sell or Consign Fine Art Paintings

Art consultant and independent appraiser Alan Bamberger, the author of "The Art of Buying Art," recommends sellers consider whether consignment might be a better option than an outright sale. An inexperienced seller may not get the best price from a gallery in a cash sale. But a gallery may be able to get you more money for your piece than an auction house by displaying it directly to potential buyers.

Bamberger writes that it's crucial for a would-be seller to do their research before approaching a gallery. He advises looking for proof that the gallery has a track record of selling similar paintings and paying sellers within a reasonable time frame if the gallery can offer a guarantee, even better. 

Whatever you do with your valuable artwork, be sure you're taking steps to protect yourself and your painting before any potential sale.