How To Buy A Painting

This article is about how to purchase a painting, what is the best way to buy it, and whether it makes sense to invest your money in art expecting to draw dividends in future.
The idea of investing money in contemporary art in order to collect dividends in future is quite popular nowadays. But if you make some exact calculations you’ll find out that in 50 years’ time you could earn on works of art virtually as much as in case of putting the same sum on bank deposit. Plus, to get this profit you’ll have to be able to sell the painting. This is true that in 100-150 years your painting could rise in price substantially. But unfortunately it would be only your descendants who would learn how much it might cost by that time. In fact, you can only draw great dividends from paintings either if you get very lucky or if you are a professional in art.
So first of all when you buy a piece of art it’s better to concentrate on aesthetic pleasure that you’ll get from enjoying your painting day by day and not to count on guaranteed high dividends in future. And even if one day you find out that the painting you bought years ago now costs the fortune, let it be just a pleasant surprise.
One of the most important factors for successful purchase of a piece of art is a good aesthetic taste of the buyer. To improve and develop it one should frequently visit museums and art galleries as well as associate with people who know oats about art. In this article we would try to give you some advice specially adapted for Russian conditions on how to buy good quality contemporary art.

The cost of paintings depends upon various factors: place of purchase, name of an artist, author’s attachment to his work, of how finely and skillfully the work is done, whether the painting is listed in catalogues, etc. Let’s examine more closely the basic factors that influence the price.

Where to Buy A Painting:
The price of painting very much depends on a place of purchase. Let’s examine the basic places where paintings can be bought.

  • Auctions
    This is the most expensive way to buy a painting. Only the works of acknowledged and well-known painters are put up for auctions. The selection of paintings for auctions is made by highly professional art experts and that’s why when you buy a picture on an auction you are guaranteed against low-quality art. If a painter’s works had ever been sold at the well-known respectable auctions such as Sotheby’s, it considerably increases the prestige of the artist and the value of his art, though this fact should be confirmed by specific documents.
  • Art Galleries
    This is just a bit less expensive way to buy a painting. The gallery rooms lease is very expensive as well as advertising etc., which increases the actual price of the painting up to 50-200%. Those paintings are also selected by art experts so when you buy a picture in a gallery you still have a good chance to buy a quality piece of art.
  • Personal Art Exhibitions and Sales
    Not the cheapest way to buy a painting as well. An artist has to pay high rent for exhibition rooms as well as to frame his works, so he has to substantially increase the prices for his pictures. Especially bad luck falls on the first customers, as the artist tries to cover his lease expenses on them. As for the experts’ selection, in this case it’s optional and doesn’t necessarily take place, as usually any artist who wishes to exhibit can participate if he’s capable to pay for the room.
  • Online Art Galleries and Online Shops
    This is rather inexpensive way to buy a painting. Initial price in such galleries usually increases 10-15%, sometimes 30%. Besides, there are Internet Galleries where they offer you to buy paintings directly from the authors, without any resellers. As a rule large Online Galleries and Shops do collaborate with art experts and so the pictures have to pass a sort of quality control before they get to the site. But unfortunately you still have no guarantee that the painting you’ve bought is of great artistic value, so before you buy anything it’s better at least to get acquainted with the author’s biography.
    Solid online art galleries always do their best to upload only high quality photos of paintings to their sites, so that computer image could give a potential customer the closest impression of how the painting looks in real life. The main principle that always works well for online art trade is the following: “if you liked a picture on a photo, you’ll like it even better when you see it in reality”.
    Please mind that most notebook monitors have rather distorted color rendering, so when you choose a painting online try to examine it on a high quality stationary monitor.
    The main advantages of online art shops and galleries are: economy of time, great variety of samples, easy choice and order due to user-friendly interface.
    If online gallery sells many paintings of the same author, he gives them pretty nice prices and that means that his paintings are even cheaper to buy online than directly from the artist. Plus, you always have an opportunity to bargain still further.
  • The Artist’s Studio
    This is the cheapest way to buy a painting. Not all the artists in St.-Petersburg can afford a studio of their own, though, so most of them just work at home. Besides, some artists just don't like to meet the customers personally. But if you still managed to get to the artist’s studio, you have two advantages: the artist is almost always ready to bargain, especially if he’s at the moment in short of means; plus, you can choose your painting among the large variety of other works of the same artist and get an insight into his art. We recommend buying several works at one time, as in this case you can get a maximum discount.
  • Art Shops at the Malls, Shopping Centers and Furniture Stores
    If you are not an art expert, try to avoid these places as it’s almost impossible to find good quality paintings there. Most of those pictures are made for mass market and do not have any artistic value. Every rule has an exception, though, so there’s still a chance to find good paintings in these places, too, but you have to be an experienced expert to discover it.
  • Street Selling and Flea Markets
    Try to avoid these places as well, it’s almost impossible to buy a good painting there. Not only most of the pictures are made for mass market and lack any artistic value, there is a strong chance to buy a colored oil print instead of a picture. But sometimes good art could be found there as well, when acknowledged artists under some financial pressure bring their paintings there; in those cases paintings are often signed by a pseudonym as their price at the flea market is substantially lower than usual price for his/her works.

An artist’s name and cost of his works:

If an artist has titles and awards it increases the cost of his works, of course, but these are only oblique proofs of his/her professionalism.

  • Art education
    It’s very important that artist gets proper academic education. You can become a pro in any field without specific education as well, but this is rather an exception than a rule and could only be achieved by extremely talented personalities. Art has plenty of rules and fundamentals that may require years and years of self-education to acquire. Good education helps an artist to reach his/her full potential, though further success would depend only on his/her working abilities, talent, taste and sense of harmony. So the ideal combination for an artist would be talent plus good professional education.
    Let’s observe the main Art Higher Educational Institutions of St-Petersburg:
  1. Repin State Academic Institute of Painting Sculpture and Architecture (Academy of Arts)
    This is one of the best European Art Schools where they train professional artists. The faculty of Painting has 8 studios: 4 studios of painting, the studio of monumental painting, the studio of restoration, the studio of scenery painting, the studio of historical and church painting. In these studios they teach in rather small groups, about 7-8 students each year, so they all get a lot of personal attention and the quality of education is very high. The works of the Academy graduates is highly valued all over the world. When you buy paintings of the Academy scholars there is a strong chance that you’re buying a good quality art.
  2. The Mukhina Higher Industrial Arts College (now St. Petersburg State Academy of Art and Industry of A.L. Stieglitz)
    This Art School has three faculties: of decorative and applied arts, of monumental art and the faculty of design.
  3. The Herzen State Pedagogical University (Faculty of Painting)
  4. N.Roerich Art College of St.-Petersburg (former V. Serov Art College of Leningrad) (Department of easel painting).
    Intakes 10 students each year. Most of the graduates then continue their education in the Repin Academy of Arts or in The Herzen State Pedagogical University.
  5. Saint Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy. Set Design and Stage Technology Department, the graduates get degree in set and costume design and stage technology.
  6. Long-term private lessons taken from great artists also can be considered as good professional education.
  • Membership in artistic unions and associations.
    Among a wide variety of artists organizations one must single out The Union Of Artists Of Russia. To enter the Union an artist should have recommendations, education and a certain amount of works. There’s very strict selection to this Union in St-Petersburg, so it’s very hard to enter it unless you are really talented. So when you buy paintings from one of the members of the Union, there is a strong chance that you buy a good quality art.
  • Ranks and Titles
    Honoured Artist of Russia or People’s Artist of Russia
    If an artist has one or both of these titles, his/her works are surely worth paying attention to. When you buy from such an artist you can be sure that you buy very good painting.
    Corresponding member or Academician of the Russian Academy of Arts
    These titles are conferred for outstanding achievements in arts. Buying work of such an artist it’s a good chance to buy a quality piece of art.
  • One-man Art Exhibitions
    Participation in solid art shows and exhibitions substantially increases the cost of one’s works. To become a part of a prestigious exhibition, one’s painting has to be of a very high quality. It is considered quite prestigious to open a personal exhibition in the State Tretyakov Gallery or in the Russian Museum. One-man exhibition is an important step towards increasing the cost of one’s paintings. Please mind that participation in a serious exhibition should be always confirmed by diploma and catalogues. Buying from such artists is a good chance to purchase high quality painting.
  • Catalogue Painting
    If a painting was printed in catalogue it would cost much more expensive that the other works of the same author and if you keep a copy the catalogue where it’s printed, it would be easier for you to sell it for a better price in the future.
  • Museums
    Every modern artist dreams about being invited to sell or present his painting to a museum. This fact increases the cost of his other paintings. It’s very honorable to get into collections of the State Tretyakov Gallery or the Russian Museum. The fact must be confirmed not only verbally, of course, but by a special Museum Certificate. And when you buy a painting of such an artist you may be sure that you buy a good quality art.
  • Posters
    The main goal of a poster company is to sell posters and make profit on it. They usually choose commercial paintings of very good quality but these pictures rarely are of any artistic value. If a painter cooperates with a poster company, he becomes more known and his paintings become more expensive. But when you buy from such an artist you must keep in mind that you can either get a good piece of art or just a good quality mass product.
  • Prints and info-catalogs on contemporary art
    Mentioning in such catalogues can not be considered as proof of paintings’ quality or of a painter’s craftsmanship as all these editions are commercial and profit oriented, so one just have to pay to be included there. These catalogues are rather popular, so it’s a good way for a painter to promote himself.

Few memos to keep in mind when you buy a painting:

  • Antiques
    If you’re not a specialist we strongly recommend you not to buy antiques, as it is a great chance to get a fake.
  • Copies
    We also do not recommend buying copies of well-known or just good quality paintings. Please mind that unauthorized copies are illegitimate if the certain period of time, which is 70 years since the authors’ death, has not expired yet.
  • We recommend to scrutinize the panting and verify that this is not a print on canvas
    To exclude a chance of buying colored print instead of paining, we recommend checking it first. Take a loupe and magnify a fragment of painting – if it’s print on canvas, you’ll be able to detect a slight ripple of pixels.
  • quality of canvas and paints
    You won’t be able to check the quality of these, so you just have to trust the author. What you can do is to make sure that your painting has no mould, splits, cracks, paint detachment, fractures, etc.
  • Painting Materials
    What kind of painting to buy: oil on canvas, watercolor, pastel on paper? This is actually just a matter of preference. Oil on canvas is traditionally considered to be the most durable, but this is not exactly so. The good sample is Albrecht Durer’s watercolor A Young Hare, dated 1502, which is still in fair preservation. Oil, pastel or water-based colors have always been made from the same pigments, and difference between them is only in couplers. Modern professional papers for watercolors and pastels do not turn yellow, are parasite-proof, safe from crackles and crumbling, plus when framed get covered with non-reflective glass which provides additional protection against Ultraviolet. So it may be considered that oil on canvas is after all even more vulnerable to exposure than graphic arts.
    When kept properly any painting, pastel, watercolor or oil, will continue to gladden your eye for a long, long time. You should only make sure that your painting is safe from direct sunlight, increased humidity, sharp temperature and moisture differentials, soot and tobacco smoke.
    It is generally assumed that oil on canvas paintings are more expensive than graphics, but this also may be considered a wrong belief. Brilliant and finely made graphics with an interesting plot may sometimes cost even more than oil on canvas. For instance, Sezanne’s watercolor Still Life with Green Melon has been sold at Sotheby’s for $25,5 million.
  • Style and Genre
    How to choose a style of painting? It’s impossible to give any particular recommendations as this is highly individual and depends upon your personal taste and preference. Some like Hyperrealism (a style especially loved in the USA), some would prefer Realism (the Russian school of Realism is highly valued all over the world)/ and so on. Many collectors, for instance, like genre painting, as it's usually hard to make a mistake and buy something of poor quality. If you would prefer to buy an abstract painting, it's a strong chance to get a low quality piece of art, so in this case it's always better to consult an expert first. The most valuable in any painting are unique plot and craftsmanship of the author, and the rest is not that important.
    In the experts’ opinion, investments in Russian Realistic Art are very attractive, as perspectives of future price rise for these works are substantially higher than that of Current Art. They consider paintings that belong to the Russian School of Realism having a sort of guarantee to remain in history as this sort of painting stays beyond all fashions and orders of the day.
  • Author’s attachment to his work
    Every artist has his favorite paintings that he wouldn’t sell, or even if he does, he would charge for them much more than for the other works that he likes less.
  • Number of copies
    It’s great of course if your painting exists only in a single copy, but even if your painting has several author’s replica, there’s nothing to be upset about. Often an artist could draw the same painting several times in order to reach perfection, so sometimes later copies are even better than the original. A soon as the artist exhausts the subject (i.e. perfection is achieved), he looses interest in repetition and wouldn’t want to copy it further, whatever the price.
  • Level of craftsmanship
    Generally etude paintings made in one or two sessions, cost cheaper than more substantial and finely crafted art.
  • Generally paintings drawn from life result as more vivid and emotional.

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