Getting your work of art appraised

You might have purchased a nondescript work of art but feel like it could be worth something. You could be a seasoned collector of a hitherto unknown artist who has finally become critically important. You are thinking about moving house so need to think practically about insuring your collection.


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Whoever you are and whatever your reasons, appraising a work of art or a collection is a worthwhile endeavour. The thing to note straight away is that it can be massively time sensitive. In much the same way as stockbrokers will determine the value of shares; appraisers are also bound by the market.

Appraisal is therefore best left to specialists, professionals who understand subtle nuances in value, have insider knowledge about emerging trends and possess an innate ability to determine the most accurate prices at the time of an evaluation.

That’s not to say you can’t make your own judgements ahead of an official appraisal. Say for example you’re a collector. It is already implied in that understanding that you are an individual with knowledge, passion and a deep vested interest in a particular artist or movement.

You will therefore have, based on what you’ve spent on a work of art, a rough idea of its worth. Still, an expert will be able to assess the physicality of it much more authoritatively, and then marry that valuation up with its relevance in the market today.

Consider the work of post-war and contemporary artists like Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg and Jean-Michel Basquiat. At the turn of the century, a valuation of one of their lesser known works of art would perhaps have not been overly complimentary.

A valuation now however is going to be very generous indeed, given how popular these artists and their respective movements are at present. Basquiat, for example, who tragically died at the age of 27 in 1988, has never been as relevant as he is now.

In May 2013 his Dusthead’s painting went under the hammer for $48.8 million (approximately £31.4 million) at Christie’s sale of post-war and contemporary art in New York. This smashed his previous record at auction when Untitled went for $26.4 million (£17.2 million) in November last year.

Evidently then, timing matters a great deal. In general, the art market enjoys a lot of peak activity in spring and autumn, so it can be deduced that the industry in terms of big sales is seasonal. But this isn’t the rule. All the big auction houses, for example, put works under the hammer consistently throughout the year.

Another important thing to understand is where your work of art stands in the art market, which is, to all intents, divided into two main parts: primary and secondary. The former is works of art coming to sale for the first time, while the latter already has a history at auction.

It is easier to appraise a work in the secondary market. Here you can compare, analyse, use existing data to inform a valuation. If a work of art has no background at auction, then naturally, a review will be speculative to a degree. This is why professional appraiser is worthwhile being consulted.

Other, general factors that may impact of the value of a work include its liquidity – artists and works of art high in demand will sell naturally sell more easily than rare works by perceivably unimportant painters and sculptors.

Consider also how active a market is. Take for example a downturn. Post-recession, the art market was hit hard and everyone “closed up shop”. In such a climate, even if you have the most enviable asset, a work by Pablo Picasso for example, it will still not sell at a “true value”.

The environment simply won’t allow it. As someone in possession of such a work you have to ask yourself: “Why do I want to sell it now?” If you don’t have a reasonable answer and have robust finances, keep hold of it. It will realise its true price eventually. During this period they can plan ahead by sourcing a company that specialises in fine art removal services.

It’s why today the art market is positively booming, even against a backdrop of an economic slump that continues to embed itself into the fabric of normal life. Regardless, there’s hope and huge numbers of investors remain eager to bag themselves an enviable work of art, while collectors look on with absolute glee.

As the dealer Larry Gagosian remarked after Christie’s recorded the highest art sale in history in May 2013: “It shows how broad the market is — as in deep pockets.”

It’s an exciting time to be involved in art, for all parties be it the visitor to a well-curated exhibition, a collector looking to sell some of their works to make room for other pieces, or as an investor keen on securing an absolute gem, both as an investment and critical tour de force of aesthetic beauty.


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