The Art of Valuating Art in Storage Auctions

"Adele Bloch-Bauer I" by Gustav KlimtArtists have been around for as long as humans have had the motor skills to pick of a piece of charcoal. Through the years, society has used art to show devotion, to express feeling, and to convey messages. Really, as much as we might overlook it in our day to day lives, it’s incredibly important. As an artist myself, it’s something I hold very dear. But let me tell you—us artists can be a confusing group of people, and at times, pretty fickle.

So imagine finding an art piece at the storage auction. Maybe it’s a beautiful landscape, perfectly painted in delicate springtime hues of pastel pinks and greens. It’s impeccable—it has to be worth a fortune, right? Think again. Valuating it isn’t going to be a walk in the park, unless you’re lucky enough to find a van Gogh or Picasso. But keep on dreaming….you probably have a better chance of finding Action Comics #1.

Don’t just assume that if the art is carefully packaged in your storage unit that it’s incredibly valuable; sure, it does increase the chances, but it’s not a telltale sign. Since art is created from the heart, it often holds a much higher sentimental value than a cash value. So that painting you found all bubble wrapped in a cardboard box isn’t necessarily The Mona Lisa—it might just be the painting a young couple received as a wedding gift. You won’t know until you get it appraised.

warhol sketchJust like with most collectibles, the value of art depends greatly on the popularity of the artist. In many cases, the actual skill of the artist is second to the artist’s name—for instance, one of Andy Warhol’s sketches from when he was 10 years old is worth over 2 million dollars. Imagine trying to sell your kid’s masterpiece for even a quarter of that!

See, that’s where we artists are fickle, when the name is worth more than the art itself. When half of these famous artists were alive, we couldn’t care less about them; they were shunned by the masses and simply laughed at. Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting in his entire tragic lifetime, but now we practically worship him. Silly, right? As you can see, valuating art isn't always logical, and that's something you need to keep in mind.

Okay, so now what, where do we go from here? You’ve still got this great piece and you want to know what it’s worth. Well, first things first: you need to discern whether this piece is an original, a reproduction, or a print. It takes an incredibly trained eye to identify the authenticity of a piece, especially now that the quality of professional art prints has improved to the point of making it look almost identical to the original. Here’s a great guide to identifying the authenticity of an art piece, but when push comes to shove, you should find yourself an art appraiser.

Once you’ve confirmed that it’s an original, look for the signature. The signature is one of the most important aspects of a piece. Once you’ve deciphered the name, use your old friend Google to do a quick background search of the artist. See if their art is displayed in any galleries, if it’s being collected and sold, and for how much. You might have luck if you found a piece by a well-known local artist, as it will be more desirable to collectors in your community. If there’s no signature, this greatly decreases the value of the piece to the point where it may be worth next to nothing.

While valuating art is incredibly in-depth and depends greatly on the popularity of the artist, here are a few more good rules to keep in mind when you’re not sure about a piece:

"The Card Players" by Paul Cézanne

  • Art featuring women and children is usually more sought after than paintings of men. Younger, “prettier” faces sell the best (sounds like Hollywood, doesn’t it?)
  • Horizontal landscapes sell better than vertical ones.
  • Art created with brighter colors sell better than darker ones.
  • Art done in the typical style of the artist sells better than experimental pieces.

Keep in mind that these are all very basic rules, and depending on the artist, can change significantly. You should always have your art appraised by an expert; call around to local art museums and galleries to see if they offer appraisals. If you can get your piece authenticated by an appraiser, you have a much better chance of selling it.

And at the end of the day, if you find out your piece of art isn’t worth anything…well, it’s still a beautiful painting, right? Hang it in your living room for everyone to admire, and you can tell the story about that one time you thought you hit the jackpot with an oil painting.


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