About Art Valuation

An Art Valuation is a Matter of Opinion, not Fact

An art valuation is the expression of an opinion as to the value of a work of art. The valuation is an estimate based on the professional valuer's expertise and knowledge, and research into current market trends, values and conditions. Hence you may find that one expert will provide a slightly different valuation to another.

Different Valuations for Different Situations

It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a single definitive value for a work of art, because valuations are carried out for a number of different purposes, and the monetary value ascribed to a work of art varies according to the type of valuation provided.

Art Valuation Types

Open Market Valuations

Open market valuations are estimates of fair market value - the amount an item might realise if sold on the open market. In other words:

  1. the price that might be agreed between a willing buyer and willing seller, both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts, and neither being under any compulsion to buy or sell, or
  2. the amount that might be achieved if the item was placed in an appropriate auction at the present time, irrespective of any commission, sale expenses, taxes or other fees that might be incurred in achieving a sale at auction.

A low and high estimate of an item's value are usually provided. An open market valuation is the type of valuation you will receive from PictureValuation.

Retail Valuations

The retail value of a picture is the price that would be paid for the item 'as new' in a retail environment - the price paid to a gallery, or dealer, for example.

Insurance Valuations

Insurance valuations are carried out to ascertain a value for the purpose of replacement or reinstatement of an item in the event of loss or damage.

Works of art are usually unique, so art insurance valuations are calculated on the basis of what a broadly similar item would cost at the present time.

In the case of prints or multiples, other copies are likely to be available, so the valuation is calculated on the basis of the current cost of purchasing the item.

Art insurance valuations must therefore be appropriate for retail replacement, and it is important to have them regularly updated to keep pace with changes in the marketplace.

Insurance policies vary, and compensation may be paid at full replacement cost, or may include a deduction for depreciation.

Probate Valuations

Probate valuations are carried out to ascertain the market value of an asset at the time of a person's death, and lie at the middle of the low and high sale estimate that would be allocated by a fine art sale room.

Auctioneers' Valuations

Auctioneers' valuations are often identical to open market valuations, but on some occasions are set considerably lower for marketing purposes, with the intention of generating extra interest in an item being placed in auction, and encouraging competitive bidding for the item.

When selling a picture at auction, vendors do not receive the full hammer price achieved at the auction - various charges are normally deducted from the sale price, reducing the amount a vendor receives for their item.

Vendors may also need to wait some time for a suitable auction after making an item available for sale, and there is no certainty that an item will actually sell at a sale. However, if two buyers or more compete for an item, there is a possibility that it may sell at a higher price than the valuation assigned to the work.

Dealers' Valuations

Art dealers' valuations are usually identical to open market valuations. However, if a dealer is valuing an item with a view to purchasing it, they might place a higher value on the item if they have a ready market for it, whereas if they are buying an item for stock, which might tie up capital for some time, they might value an item at lower than the open market value.

When selling a picture to a dealer, remember that you will receive the full amount agreed for the item, without any deductions, and the transaction can normally be conducted and completed immediately.

The Main Factors Affecting the Value of a Picture

There are three main factors affecting the value of a picture:

An artist's reputation and the quality of their work are paramount. Works by Great Masters will be valued at very high levels, while works of lesser known artists will have a lower, more modest value. Works by contemporary artists who have little or no auction record can be particularly hard to value, and are usually valued at below retail price. Where an artist is not known or cannot be ascertained, other factors such as the quality, subject and age of the work take precedence when valuing the picture.
Popularity and fashion have an important effect on the value of a picture. Fashions change, and when collectors are searching for a particular genre of art, or a particular artist, the value goes up in the same way that values for another artist or genre of art can fall with a decline in popularity.
Economic Climate
Times of economic prosperity can boost the value of art, while harder economic times can depress the value. The value of an investment in a work of art can rise and fall, just like the price of commodities, stocks and shares, etc., but over the long term, art is regarded as a good investment.

Other Factors Affecting the Value of a Picture

The quality of an artist's output can vary, so a good example of an artist's work will be valued more highly than a inferior picture by the same artist. Some pictures may have required a lot more effort to produce than others, which may be little more than sketches, so the value is affected accordingly. Quality always attracts a premium.
Some subjects are valued more highly than others. Once again, this has to do with fashion, which changes over time. Also a particular artist may have carried out his best work in the area of landscape painting rather than still life, so their landscapes will be more highly valued than their still lifes.
Creation Date
Works created in different eras can be valued differently. For example, modern work can be more fashionable than traditional work, while at another time traditional work may be more popular.
Pictures are also valued according to medium. Oil paintings are normally valued more highly than watercolours, followed by drawings and then prints.
Large pictures normally have a higher value than small pictures. However with people tending to live in smaller houses and in greater density than the past, really large pictures are becoming less attractive to collectors, with smaller pictures gaining in popularity.
Condition will affect the value of a picture. Pictures in excellent condition are the most desirable. If a picture is damaged, dirty or faded, its value will be adversely affected. Some faults can be repaired, while others cannot.
Pictures will receive a higher valuation when there is no doubt about the authorship of the piece.
Value is affected if an artist's work rarely becomes available on the open market, if the subject matter of a picture is particularly unusual, or if a work comes from a particularly good phase of an artist's career.
Age is not necessarily an indicator as to higher value, as the condition of an artwork can deteriorate with time. This is especially the case with watercolours - and of course styles and artists go in and out of fashion as time passes.

Terminology Used When Valuing Fine Art

The following terms are commonly used when valuing a picture:

  1. Thomas Gainsborough: A work valued with the name(s) or recognised designation of an artist, without any qualification, is, in the opinion of the valuer, a work by the artist.
  2. Attributed to Thomas Gainsborough: In the opinion of the valuer, probably a work by the artist in whole or in part.
  3. Studio of Thomas Gainsborough/Workshop of Thomas Gainsborough: In the opinion of the valuer, a work by an unknown hand in the studio or workshop of the artist, which may or may not have been executed under the artist's direction.
  4. Circle of Thomas Gainsborough: In the opinion of the valuer, a work of the period of the artist, showing his influence, by an unknown hand, not necessarily his pupil, but closely associated with the named artist.
  5. Style of/Follower of Thomas Gainsborough: In the opinion of the valuer, a work by a painter working in the artist's style, contemporary or nearly contemporary, but not necessarily his pupil.
  6. Manner of Thomas Gainsborough: In the opinion of the valuer a work in the style of the artist but of a later date.
  7. After Thomas Gainsborough: In the opinion of the valuer a copy (of any date) of a known work of the artist. This term is also used to describe a reproduction of an artist's work, printed or engraved by someone other than the artist.
  8. Bears Signature - In the opinion of the valuer, a work signed with the artist's name, either in full, or in part, where there is considerable, or almost complete doubt about the authorship of the work. Note: the designation "signed" is sometimes used to convey the same meaning.

Statements offered as to authorship, attribution, origin, date, age and condition of a work of art are statements of opinion and should not be taken as statements of fact.