Researching Fine Art

Disclaimer: The information below is intended to guide you to professional sources of information. Please do not make a buying or selling decision based solely on what you read here. Blatant errors and omissions reported by email to will be gratefully accepted.
Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why isn't artist X listed on your site?
  2. Can you tell me everything about artist X?
  3. How much is this etching/edition by artist X worth?
  4. How much is this painting by artist X worth?
  5. I think I own a valuable painting. What should I do?

Why isn't artist X listed on your site?
Keep in mind that our site is an Internet search tool, not a forum for assessing which artists are "museum-quality" and which aren't. If an artist's work doesn't happen to be viewable online at one of the sites we have indexed, then they won't be in our database.
If you want to suggest an artist for inclusion, please look over our guidelines. Note that we already have a backlog of suggestions, and adding links in this way is a rather time-consuming process.
Can you tell me everything about artist X?
Pretty much everything we can tell you about an artist we put on the artist pages. If you need more than is available at any of the sites the Artcyclopedia links to, I suggest heading to Alta Vista and Google, which I find to be the largest and most effective search engines.
Another excellent place to research fine artists is the Grove Dictionary of Art site. It's a pay site, but as of this writing you can still register for a 24-hour free trial.
You can also find the print edition of the Grove in better libraries. For better-known artists, you'll probably find entire books about them there, or within the inter-library loan system.
How much is this etching/edition by artist X worth?
Valuation of prints and etchings is very complicated, and I don't have any resources in this area whatsoever. I recommend finding a gallery who has some knowledge of the field and paying them for an appraisal - the cost is usually reasonable. For collectible artists, a site like Ebay may also give you some insight into the real-world value of your work.
How much is this painting by artist X worth?
Here are some tools to help you come up with some idea of what your original work of art might be worth.
Prices for works by a given artist vary widely and wildly for many reasons, including:
  • auction prices are usually lower than gallery "list" prices
  • size: larger is better, within reason
  • medium: oil paintings are almost invariably the most valuable, followed distantly by watercolors, pastels, drawings, etc.
  • period: is it from the artist's best period?
  • subject matter: is it characteristic of the artist's most sought-after work?
  • if a realistic work: does it have a girl or a horse in it?
  • if an abstract work: do the dominant colors match common shades of sofas and drapes?
  • provenance: has it been in the Rothschild family collection since they bought it from the artist 200 years ago (good), or does it have no traceable lineage before, say, 1946 (very very bad)?
  • certainty of authentication: even if the work is signed by the artist it could be a forgery, or it could be a genuine work from the period on which the signature has been forged
  • where the auction took place, geographically: is there a natural market for the artist's work?
  • uncontrollable factors: rain, full moon, sunspot activity, etc.
  • lastly, (and sometimes least) the actual artistic merit of the work
Keeping the above in mind, it is possible to look up auction records in the reference section of your local library, to get a general idea of what an artist's works fetch. There are several annual publications which list hundreds of thousands of sales results. The public library I use, which is good but by no means world class, has three sets by different publishers.
One good online resource is Artcult, which has a freely accessible database of price ranges for many artists. And if you are willing to pay, you can get full auction results online at several sites, including and
I think I own a valuable artwork. What should I do?
First, what not to do: do NOT clean it, or reframe it, or restore it, by yourself. If it's on paper, do not give it too much light and never let it receive direct sunlight. And resist the temptation to remove layers of paint to see if the artist painted the women naked under their clothes.
(I have recently discovered a nice page at the North Carolina Museum of Art site which discusses conservation issues related to the display, storage, and transport of fine art.)
Now, if you think you have a valuable work of art, here's what to do:
  1. Take a trip to the library to familiarize yourself with the artist's oeuvre and find out how much his works are typically worth (see above for more on this). This will help you determine how much is would be sensible to spend on the next few steps.
  2. Have the work authenticated and appraised.
  3. Insure the work as soon as possible.
  4. Get advice from a professional conservator.
  5. Sell the work, if you wish.
Now, if you have reason to believe you own a valuable work of art, you should probably have it appraised. Sothebys and Christie's offer this service, as do many galleries. You can also find professional fine art appraisers in the Yellow Pages (under "appraisers" where I live). They should also be able to advise about authentication of your work.


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