Sign up here

How much is an antique painting worth? Ten golden rules to know its value

You have probably wondered several times how could you find out the value of that antique painting that has always been in your house, or that one you have just inherited; or simply, you want to purchase one.

Well, here are some basic notions, which will be very useful: the ten most important golden rules you should keep in mind to know what the value of your old painting might be.

1st Rule. The higher the quality, the better it is sold.

This should always be the first rule. In theory, the more artistic quality a painting has, the higher its price will be. However, since usually not everyone has the knowledge needed to value and appreciate the aesthetics of a painting, we should take into account other elements (such as those listed below), which also play a role and in many cases are even more important than the actual quality of the painting itself.

2nd Rule. The more popular the artist is, the higher the value of his/her works will be.

A signed painting will always be sold more easily than an anonymous one, and it will be much better if the artist is well-known. In addition, if we have information about his/her life, if other paintings by him/her are for sale in art auctions or if there are sales references of these works, the chances of sale are even greater. And if any of his/her paintings hangs in a museum, there’s nothing else to say.

Sometimes antique dealers or gallery owners are unable to recognize an anonymous work at first sight, but, on the other hand, they do perfectly master signatures, value and prices related to it.

3rd Rule. A local artist outsells non-locals.

Well… What we mean by this? It’s very easy. A painting by a good disciple of Joaquín Sorolla, for example, will be sold easier in Valencia than in Galicia, since he is better known in this first region. Therefore, there will be more people willing to buy it, as they will identify more with what is depicted.

By this we mean that we always should try to sell a painting in the homeland of the artist, or where he/she developed his/her artistic career, in order to get a higher return. Madrid is an exception, since it is the capital of the art market in Spain, where there are hundreds of art auctions every year and it has a lot of strength.

4th Rule. If what is depicted is local and recognizable, it will be sold sooner and better.

It is the continuation of the previous paragraph. If an antique dealer or gallery owner tells you that the work features a view or landscape of something that is very recognisable or emblematic in your city (a building, a square, a monument…), it will be sold earlier and much better than any other painting, or even than one of better quality, for a reason unknown to you. People like to have in their homes views of their streets, of their town or city… In short, anything near them and that they can see every day.

5th Rule. The more beautiful and pleasant the subject, the better the painting sells.

This is another key rule. A beautiful countryside landscape will always sell better than a dark interior or a view of a simple alley. In this case, even though the landscape was painted by an unknown artist and the others by a renowned one, you might be sure that the landscape will be sold earlier. In many cases, if what is depicted is beautiful, it can even conceal the poor pictorial quality that it has.

A good example of this could be if someone inherited a portrait of a fat, bald man with a moustache, dressed in black and with a serious countenance. Unless he was his/her grandfather and he/she was very fond of him, not even his grandchildren would hang it. However, if what we have is a woman’s nude or the portrait of a beautiful girl, the situation would be very different.

6th Rule. Religious painting is less valued.

Nowadays, there are fewer and fewer people who fancy seeing saints with angel faces and ecstasy at home, and far less to have to face scenes of martyrs skinned alive or any kind of blood and guts. That’s why religious painting is often more difficult to be sold.

Experts in art appraisal agree on the following exceptions: tender scenes from Jesus’ childhood, such as the Holy Family, landscapes of the flight to Egypt, young and graceful holy women, such as the Saints of Zurbarán, scenes of luxury and splendour, such as the Adoration of the Magi, etc.

7th Rule. Paintings with documented histories are a plus.

All those paintings that can be traced, either through old family photographs in which they appear, or through wills, sales receipts or inventories, are much easier to sell. Experts in painting auctions need a documentary source on which to base, since the authenticity of a particular work is proven and this is a plus for both buyer and seller.

8th Rule. Paintings that hide remarkable stories are more attractive.

Any painting that has an interesting story behind it, be it an anecdote of the artist, or of its owners, has an added value, since that small story gives the work a more attractive and fantastic aura.

9th Rule. Size matters.

We usually think that the larger the painting is, the more expensive it should be. However, this rule has some exceptions; for example, in the case of oversized paintings, it is more difficult for them to be sold than a smaller one, for the simple reason that houses today are usually smaller, with lower ceilings and therefore there’s less space on walls. Today it is not very common that someone has a big house with a completely empty huge wall.

On the other hand, medium or small sized paintings are easier to fit, so they are comparatively more popular. In the past, unscrupulous art dealers did not hesitate to split a large painting into several smaller ones, and therefore easier to sell, completely ruining the artwork.

10th Rule. The more original and the less restored it is, the better.

It seems somewhat contradictory, but we are based on the fact that many artistic works have undergone several restorations which have completely modified, repainted or patinated them, thereby seriously changing their true original appearance. For this reason,  experts in art appraisals agree that it is preferable to have a painting that has been altered as little as possible and which better preserves its original condition.