Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Should I sell my work at auction or to a dealer?

When you sell your work you should expect to get the Fair Market Value for a piece. The IRS defines Fair Market Value in IRS Publication 561 as follows: “The price that property would sell for on the open market. It is the price that would be agreed on by a willing buyer and a willing seller, with neither being required to act and both having reasonable knowledge of all relevant facts.”
Confused? Don’t be. Fair Market Value is not the same as Retail Value and when you think about it logically it makes sense. When a private client approaches a dealer with a piece of art the dealer will offer them a certain amount of money. Once that piece is sold to the dealer the dealer will then mark the piece up and resell it. The price that they sell it for in their gallery is the Retail Value.
If you go to auction, bidders are competing against one-another until someone gives up and someone wins the piece. Usually, this price is also less than what a buyer would pay in a retail setting (many dealers buy pieces at auction as well). At auction, however, you will have to pay what is called a “sellers premium” which is usually around 10% plus charges for insurance and illustration.
The plus side of an auction (especially with a well-known auction house) is that it is well-advertised and if a piece is highly desirable, the price may go well above the estimate. The plus side of using a dealer is knowing the piece will be sold and not having to pay a premium.
Below are examples of the work of one artist, Alice Brown Chittenden and the prices achieved at auction and the prices a dealer would be willing to pay.
Cincinnati Art Galleries estimates that they would pay between $5,000-$10,000 for a work by this artist. Obviously they can’t name an exact price because a lot of the value is determined by subject, quality, condition, size, m
edium etc.
1.At auction, the highest price ever achieved for a Chittenden work was $16,500 but that was in 1992 and the painting was 24”X 40” for one of the best examples of her style entitled Chrysanthemums. (seen in the first picture).

2. A better, more recent, and more likely auction figure was the June 2007 sale of the oil on canvas Bouquet of blue Nemophila measuring 10 X 14 which sold for
3. The April 2007 sale of the oil on canvas Zinnias in an Oriental Vase measuring 25” X 20” which sold for $3,500.
In the case of the first auction the painting was estimated between $15,000-$20,000. Even if a dealer was to offer the low amount, the seller would have come out ahead because after fees the seller made less than the low estimate.
In the case of the second auction the painting was estimated between $3000-$5000 so the seller probably came out ahead selling at auction.
In the third case, the estimate was $1200-$1800. In this case, the seller again came out ahead.

The key to selling any artwork no matter the price is to find out where the style or the artist is most popular and then pursue sales in that location. It is also important that you find out as much as you can about the art that you plan on selling so that you have the best possible chance of speaking with authority when you are ready to sell.

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