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Should You Buy?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015 12:37 PM Current | Bio | Archive

If an artist’s work is noteworthy and sought after, demand can exceed supply and asking and selling prices usually increase. Noting there are exceptions, the value and desirability of art is determined by the following:
  • The more promoted, revered and well known an artist’s achievements, the more valuable the artist’s work. A small finely executed drawing by a master is more valuable than an oil painting by someone unknown.
  • A painter’s authentic signature usually adds value to an artwork.
  • If a painting was executed during an artist’s finest period and/or utilizes his or her best brushwork, style and subject matter, it generally is more alluring and valuable than similar paintings devoid of those characteristics.
  • The closer to original pristine condition, the higher the value. Paintings poorly restored (glue lining, overly in-painted or skinned) drop in value.
  • The more seductive, pleasing, moving and balanced a subject, its design and colors, the better the painting. A beautiful 19th-century woman in a long white dress strolling along a magnificent beach in summer by a fine representational artist will be worth much more than a cow’s head or empty landscape by the same artist.
  • Authentic inscriptions and dates on the front or verso of a painting can enhance value and desirability. It is better to buy a painting authentically signed on the front than it is to purchase one attributed, unsigned or signed only on the verso.
  • The more exhibitions, references and substantiated provenance data that comes with a painting, the higher its value. The more esteemed the seller, the more important the painting’s provenance. If a dealer claims a painting has no provenance, do not buy it. It could be stolen, have no clear title or be counterfeit.
  • Names of sitters, locations, identifiable historical events and data regarding an artist’s reason or motivation for having created an artwork add to its desirability and value. An artist’s letter discussing an artwork’s merits usually enhances value.
  • Because most collector-investors prefer to purchase oil paintings (unless an artist did not paint in oil) the medium of oil is considered the most valuable and desirable of an artist’s oeuvre, but there are exceptions.
  • Period frames by famous carvers in good condition enhance the overall value and desirability of a painting. Some period frames sell for $100,000 plus. 
  • If there is a recognized authenticator, compiler of a catalogue raisonn√©, or historian who is an expert on an artist, a letter, identification label or certificate verifying a painting’s genuineness enhances its value. If an expert rejects or questions authenticity or genuineness, that negativity can cause art to plummet in value.
  • Museum exhibitions that include an artwork enhance its desirability and value, especially if the artwork is illustrated and referenced in a museum’s exhibition catalog.
  • Proof of purchase and clear title without any encumbrances or liens of any kind (guaranteed by a seller) enhance the desirability and value of an artwork.
Art collectors who do not care about the investment potential of art or have no intention of selling it in the short-term, buy from auctioneers, galleries, antique shops, private parties, and others. But an art investor must be careful to purchase art from reputable sources and select art that has not been over-exposed, especially if he or she intends to sell the art for a short-term capital gain.

Art purchased for investment must have proof of provenance and historical documentation. Art that has not been shopped or overexposed usually escalates in value more rapidly than that which has been advertised, auctioned, or offered too broadly.

If an investor buys art from a major auction-house, the art sale will be recorded on numerous Internet databases throughout the world. By virtue of that listing, it will be considered shopped and less desirable than unauctioned art. After 5 years pass, the auction sale’s stigma is less relevant because market values change.

Collectors and investors research offerings on Internet databases to find out if art has been sold at auction. If art is an auction piece, a potential buyer will be careful not to pay much more than its last auction-selling price, unless the painting is irreplaceable.

Buy-ins at auctions indicate the art isn’t good enough to purchase and are a taboo for investment potential, unless the buyer is willing to hold the piece for years.

Because the demand for art is great and it is hard to find virgin paintings of quality, dealers often increase asking prices from time to time. No one legally can hold a seller to an asking price (unless it is put in writing). Art prices are subject to change.

If an investor buys an artwork from a yard sale, antique shop, road show, or a person they will never see again, the buyer may or may not make a hit or purchase an authentic piece.

If an investor buys an artwork from someone who disappears and it is discovered the artwork is a forgery or stolen, police can confiscate the artwork and the investor will forfeit the item and its cost. Of course, if a wonderful painting that is perfect in every way happens to be in yard sale, and it is priced fairly and comes with a legitimate Bill of Sale, buy it with a check (not cash).

Patricia Jobe Pierce is a freelance writer, art historian, art dealer-consultant, certified AAA appraiser, public speaker, photographer and American art authenticator for museums, auction houses and collectors. She graduated from Boston University with a BFA in 1965, is owner and director of Pierce Galleries, Inc. in Nantucket and Hingham, Mass., and is author of many works, including, "Art Collecting & Investing: The Inner Workings and the Underbelly of the Art World." For more of her submissions, Click Here Now.


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An art investor must be careful to purchase art from reputable sources and select art that has not been over-exposed, especially if he or she intends to sell the art for a short-term capital gain.
Homeland Security
Tuesday, 28 April 2015 12:37 PM
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