You know it's worth something and yet the art dealer won't take it and it hasn't sold on craigslist. What do you do with the painting that was given to you that you'd rather have the cash value for? The last two weeks we've received quite a few inquiry calls about selling works that were given to them so I decided to answer some of the most common questions. (This is a general overview and not to be taken as professional or legal advice. Every situation is exclusive of any other and we'd prefer you call us for your specific needs)!

My mom told me she paid $3,000 for the painting. What can I sell it for? 

Unless it's a "known artist" (this does not have to be a household name, but I consider this a person that has an auction and/or private retail record. Or, someone that has been "discovered" by a dealer or curator and has been deemed academically relevant), the likelihood of a piece appreciating is very slim. That doesn't mean that paintings you bought for a few hundred dollars can't grow in value, but the seemingly long list of artists you see becomes very short when you talk about resale. And more realistically, the painting is not worth what you paid for it and in some cases, worth less.

It's worth less than we paid for it? How is this possible?

If your mom bought it from a dealer or art fair, and it's a contemporary (living) artist, it's hard to gauge in one lifetime what the piece will be worth. It all depends on demand for that particular artist's work. If there's little competition and the works are easily accessible, the work is worth what the dealer and artist agreed to split the sale for and what it  covered -  a lot of overhead such as utilities, travel, insurance, publicity, marketing and general costs. Those are the facts behind selling works at a gallery. It is after all, a business.

I found a dealer that sells this artist's works but they wouldn't accept the painting for consignment. Why?

There are many reasons a dealer may not accept the work. But the most common one is that they don't believe they can sell it. Dealers know what their clients will buy and they have to protect their investments as well. By the time a dealer takes on the cost of insuring, shipping and (if required) framing or having the work cleaned/repaired, it may not be worth the trouble to take on the consignment. Sometimes they may ask you to take on a part or all of these costs and you could see how this could add up and possibly deter you from the transaction as well.

Also, remember that if you're in a hurry to sell your piece, this is a lengthy process. Rarely do dealers buy the piece from you outright. They will hold the painting under terms that if and when the work sells, they will send you a check for your share. A dealer's cut can be any percentage you've agreed to but generally it's 20-50 of the retail selling price.

Where else can I look to sell it?

Auction houses are a great resource for buying and selling works and would be my next suggestion for clients. Keep in mind you have to show proof of ownership whether it be a receipt or legal paperwork bequeathing the work to you (a will, notarized document) and provenance (a list of who the work has belonged to since it's creation) only helps to make the piece more sellable.

Auctioneers have the same responsibility as a dealer has to represent, market and sell your work to the highest bidder so they also get to decide whether they will accept your piece for sale as well. This can also be a long process since sales may occur seasonally or bi-annually.

The auction house won't accept it either. What do I do now?

A client asked if they could sell the piece on ebay themselves. I told them that it was a possible avenue but they should remember that they take on all liability of the sale. Meaning, if they advertise the work by a particular artist and it's authenticated later that it's not, they can be sued or have the price of the piece demanded by the buyer. That said, there are many successful sales on ebay. I just simply remind people to be wary and protect themselves.

None of the above worked. Why won't anyone buy this??

It would be simple enough to say that in a low market, art isn't selling. But that's not the case for high end collectors as a recent contemporary sale proved for Sotheby's and Christie's earlier this month. So why hasn't anyone bought your painting?

Let's say you have a 1,000 people in a room. Only about 10% of those people are "art collectors", or people that actively seek art from artists, dealers and fairs on a regular basis. Of those 100 collectors, perhaps only half of them may like the painting of flowers you're offering but how many of them will actually want to buy it for the $3,000 that your mother paid for it? Unless it's a known artist or they truly, truly love it, the percentage will be very small - maybe 2 or 3 people.

I wish I had better news for everyone that needs the extra holiday cash this season. But I wanted to give some realistic advice to help you better understand the daunting task of fine art collecting and selling. It's not simply slapping on a price tag, unfortunately. It's actually easier to sell a multi-million dollar work than a low or middle market one and this is true at almost any time in art collecting history. I'm always here for questions so please feel free to email me. Best of luck with your collection building!

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