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Art Hunters Handbook, West Highland Art Auctions

The Art Hunters Handbook

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West Highland Art Auctions

A New Way To Sell Art At Auction

The Art Auction Partnership Program

Let Us Appraise Your Paintings To Sell At Auction

In order to successfully sell a painting at auction you need to know its value. Appraising art is not an exact science. However, it's more than a guess. Many people think that the value of art is based on its beauty. Not true. The value of art is based mainly on the fame of the artist. So we must be sure that the art is unquestionably genuine. Thousands of people own "Picassos" that were not painted by Pablo Picasso. Art experts can often recognize a genuine work by its style, the signature and characteristics such as the age of the canvas. More importantly, provenance and documentation can provide unquestionable proof of authenticity. In the case of high value artists, the authentication process is more rigorous. Unless previous ownership can be traced back to the artist or a reputable gallery, a written opinion by an acknowledged expert, usually the author of the Catalog Raisonne, is essential to marketability. In the absence of solid provenance, we rely on acknowledged experts.

 Assuming that the art is genuine, and we know who the artist is (we do not appraise unsigned paintings), the next step is to compare a painting to past auction records. We look for similar compositions, quality and size. Also, the current market trend. Have prices been going up or down?


The first thing we learn from reviewing paintings sold at public auction in the past 5 to 10 years is what each individual artist is best known for, and which subject matter the art community (collectors, dealers and investors) prefer. For example, an artist may be best known for beach scenes. This means that this artist’s portraits or landscapes probably won’t bring as much as bright, colorful images of people enjoying the sand and surf. Like real estate “comparables”, auction records reveal how much bidders were willing to pay for similar works by the same artist.

As to why we look at public auction records to assess market value, the answer is simple. There is no way to know how much an art gallery actually sold a painting for. Auctions, on the other hand, reflect the transparent results of thousands of knowledgeable and competitive buyers. Size is often a factor. A much larger version of a similar scene, executed equally well, could easily bring double or triple.

If you would like us to appraise your paintings, please send us high quality digital images (not cell phone pics) of the front and back of the painting, as well as a close-up of the signature. The back of a painting can tell us a lot. If it's covered with paper or board, carefully remove the protective covering. This will not harm the painting. But it will allow us to see if the artist inscribed his name, the title or location of the painting (like "Gloucester 1924") on the stretcher or on the back of the canvas. The "history" of a painting not only proves its age, it also adds interest and value to a work of art. Paintings frequently have gallery or museum "exhibition labels" on the back of the painting. This is further evidence of authenticity, and collectors often bid more at auction for paintings with written history and provenance. "Provenance" is the record of ownership of a painting. Letters, bills of sale, old photos, catalogs and other published references to a painting can add considerable value. Printed labels or limited edition numbers clearly identify the work as a reproduction.



Among the popular and famous artists we appraise, buy and auction are Fermn Coppedge, Guy Wiggins, Birger Sandzen, Aldro Hibbard, Anthony Thieme, Hayley Lever, Edouard Cortes, Rolph Scarlett, Colin Campbell Cooper, John Costigan, Alice Neel, Gardner Symons, Guy Rose and Marion Wachtel. We are experts in all periods of American art, from Hudson River School to Impressionism to California Art, to Modernism and Pop Art.

West Highland Art Auctions
West Highland Art Auctions
West Highland Art Auctions

An artist's signature is not a foolproof indication of authenticity. Sometimes we can tell that a signature is "wrong." But a signature is often inconclusive. The composition and quality of the painting may be the best indication of who painted it. As the value of an artist increases, so does the quality of the fakes. For this reason, there is a "Catalog Raisonne" for most important artists. This is a book which lists every known painting by the artist, and where it resided. We may still have to contact experts who specialize in the work of famous artists to authenticate (or refute the authenticity) of a valuable painting.

Watercolors are harder than oils to identify because watercolor paint is thin and flat. In person, we can recognize the texture of watercolor paper. Plus, if you remove a watercolor from its frame, the "edge" of the subject matter should be irregular and not a perfect rectangle. When an artist paints a watercolor, they create a composition that must be defined with a "border" or matte. An evenly edged watercolor is likely to be a print or reproduction.

With respect to the “value” of a painting, like all auction houses we appraise a work of art with a high and low estimate, like $8,000 to $12,000. We only appraise and broker original paintings by artists with public auction records. In the case of oil paintings, you can usually feel the raised texture of the oil paint on canvas or board. Lightly touching the surface of a painting will not harm it. If you are not sure if you are looking at a genuine oil painting, bring the "painting" to a local art gallery or framing shop. They can probably tell you in one minute whether you have an original or a copy. If your painting was done on canvas, and it is older than the 1970's the canvas will traditionally be attached to the wooden stretcher with nails rather than staples. So if you think you have a 19th century or early 20th century (1900-1960's) oil painting on canvas, but the canvas was stapled to the stretcher, it's probably a reproduction. Today’s "giclees" (computer generated paintings) look very much like original oil paintings at first glance. However, they do not exhibit the same look and feel of a vintage painting.


West Highland Art Auctions
West Highland Art Auctions



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