At Austin Galleries, we regularly receive inquiries from people wondering if a piece of art they inherited or acquired secondhand is valuable. For those unfamiliar with the fine art world, it can feel daunting to approach and answer this question. To help you solve this problem, here are 5 actionable steps you can take to estimate the value of your art.
Steps for determining the value of your art:
Step 1: Determine if your artwork is a painting or a print.
This step is overlooked more often than you might expect. The fastest way to immediately tell if a piece is a print is to look for an edition number at the bottom of the piece. If you are not able to locate an edition number, then lightly touch the paper or canvas to feel for the texture of paint brush strokes. Watercolor pieces won’t have any texture, but acrylic and oil paintings usually will.
You also want to examine the art piece with a loupe or magnifying glass. With these tools, you will be able to see if the piece is printed onto the paper.
Q: Are prints valuable?
There are many types of prints, many of which do not hold much more value than the frame they come in. This is not true for all prints though, and lithographs tend to be the most common type of potentially valuable print. If the piece is a lithograph, it will usually have an edition number that says something like “55/100”, and will also often be signed by the artist. Lithographs are never printed on canvas.
The convenient thing about lithographs is that they're easy to price because other people have exact copies. Do some research to see if you can find the same one listed online.
Other types of potentially valuable prints include serigraphs, woodblock prints, screen prints, etc. These are somewhat less common than lithographs.
Step 2: Consider the provenance.
If you received the piece of artwork from a family member or friend, take the time to ask them how they acquired the piece. This may give you all the information you need to begin looking for comparable artworks.
As much as we would all love to serendipitously acquire a priceless piece of fine art at a thrift shop or garage sale, this is extremely unlikely. However, if you take the steps listed previously and determine the piece to be an authentic painting, it could warrant a bit more investigation.
Step 3: Find the Signature, and search the internet to try and find the artist.
The signature on an art piece is usually on the bottom left or right of the piece, but some artists will sign at the top or even somewhere within the composition. It is not uncommon, though, for abstract pieces to be only signed on the back to allow the piece to be mounted in any orientation desired.
If you cannot read the signature, first try guessing what it says plus "artist" and searching Google images. Look through the results to try and find a painting of the same style and then check if that piece has a matching signature. You can also try taking a well lit photo of the signature and uploading it to Google Lens, which will search the internet for similar photos.
Step 4: Look at other listings by that same artist on the internet.
The next step in finding the value of an art piece is to look at other listings on the internet. You can do this by searching the artist's name and clicking on the “Shopping” section in Google. The most reliable sources for price information will be gallery websites like ours, and fine art marketplaces such as 1stDibs. Websites like eBay and Etsy are less reliable, but can be useful if they are your only option.
Step 5: Find Comparable Artworks
When looking at similar paintings, make sure the pieces are the same medium and then look primarily at the size. Many artists price their work on a price per square inch basis. The next tier of similarity is subject matter. Some artists have a variety of styles that will go for different prices relative to each other. M.A. Bhatti, an artist we represent, is one such example.
*If an artist paints two completely different genres (i.e. abstracts vs western romanticism), you will want to find a comparable of the same genre before you consider size.
Valuable art is rarely owned by accident. Usually, if someone inherits something of value, they’ve been aware of the piece and its value for years prior to acquiring it. There are exceptions, however, and hopefully this article has given you a straightforward roadmap to determine if your art is valuable.
If you find your art is valuable and are interesting in selling it, you are welcome to reach out to us about a potential consignment.
What is an appraisal and how is it different from an estimate of value?
We’ve noticed over the years that there is a lot of confusion around appraisals for art and antiques. If you live in or near Austin, Texas, you can find a more in depth overview of our appraisal services here.
Appraisals are legal documents intended to withstand scrutiny for purposes including obtaining insurance coverage, filing an insurance claim; probate or processes related to executing a will; determining estate tax; dividing assets in the case of a divorce; making a charitable donation. In some specific cases, appraisals are used to establish a fair market value for the sale of art.
Our appraisals start at a $475 minimum, so your art piece will need to be valued higher than that for an appraisal to be warranted. An exception would be in the case of probate, where you may have a large amount of items less valuable that need to be accounted for.