In recent decades paintings and art more generally have become a prominent area for financial investment as more and more collectors from across the world join the market for fine art. This has in turn boosted the desire for new works not known to the market, making pieces that have gone unsold for years particularly important.
Painting valuation is a complicated affair incorporating connoisseurship and market data and yet there’s almost always a subjective judgement from the buyer that drives them to purchase a piece of art even as an investment. In many cases the ‘wall power’ of a painting plays a big role in an auction sale, with colour, size, subject matter and style all contributing to this. Condition is also something that is often visible on first inspection in an auction setting; ‘craquelure’ is the term for the small cracks found on paintings due to drying and aging. Cracking of paint is closely linked to how the painting has been stored and, in many cases, can devalue the painting if found in excess. The alternative to deteriorating paint is restoration work, but this is also sometimes visible on first inspection and not always the best choice – an expert opinion is often crucial in this decision. Beyond a first inspection, the face of a painting can also be examined under UV light which will reveal imperfections and restoration.
Painting Labels and Marks
The reverse of a painting can sometimes be just as important to the sale value as the front. While the appearance of a painting is often what a buyer will be initially attracted to, labels, markings and signatures are used to tell the history of a piece, its ‘provenance’, and help in confirming or denying its authenticity. Removing a painting from its frame and examining its lining can also be worthwhile for older paintings; original lining is often desirable, although sometimes not at the expense of condition. Labels of exhibitions and galleries can trace the provenance of a piece and are so important that they are sometimes forged to add authenticity to real or fake paintings. This information can be combined with the condition of the canvas, lining and nails to authenticate the age of a painting. Auction houses also often stamp their lots and artist themselves sometimes also make dedications on the back, all of which adds to provenance.
The Art Market
The ultimate arbiter of all art, whatever its shape, size, condition or provenance, however, is the market. Art sales are usually either retail sales such as from a gallery, or secondary sales such as at an auction. It is important to note that a retail price may be far higher than what a painting could achieve at an auction and as such valuations from different people can have different meanings. Valuing a painting for the secondary market generally focuses on market statistics and finding a comparable piece; the stronger the similarities to a recent sale by the artist in question, the better an idea we can get of its value. Elements like subject matter, date of production, date of sale, size and medium are all taken into account when considering how alike two sales are likely to be. This can be done from your own living room through auction record websites or, more reliably, by an experienced valuations specialist with knowledge of the market.