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  • Let Art Experts Judge Importance of Artistic Works


    Consulting and appraisals for buyers and Collectors

    The following example is typical of a situation where an expert opinion is helpful in resolving misconceptions about works of art, art history, art prices, or how the art business works:

    Q: I have what I believe to be an historically important and valuable painting. It is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln done by a local artist in 1901. Can you tell me something about it? What is it's value? How can I sell it to a museum?

    A: This painting is neither historically important nor valuable. True, Lincoln was a major figure in American history, but that does not mean every Lincoln portrait is automatically valuable and worth large amounts of money. The opposite is far more often the case. Because Lincoln was so famous, many many artists have painted, sculpted, drawn, carved, etched, or otherwise reproduced his image countless times since the mid 1800s. In other words, works of art depcting Abraham Lincoln are relatively common and often not that valuable.

    In order for a portrait like yours to have substantial value, it would have to be painted by a recognized artist, and/or from a personal sitting with Lincoln or at least from preliminary sketches made in Lincoln's presence. In order for it to have value, not necessarily substantial value, it would have to be painted by a recognized artist preferably during Lincoln's lifetime or shortly after his death (not necessarily from a personal sitting but for a good reason such as being the result of an institutional or governmental commission). Yours was painted by a minor artist 36 years after Lincoln's death for indeterminate reasons.

    On the positive side, this portrait is reasonably well painted and has a value in the $2000-$4000 range, primarily as a decorative wall piece. No museum would be interested in buying it, but a commercial establishment like a restored Victorian era bar, restaurant or hotel, or even a private residence might. Demand would be the highest in places where Lincoln either lived or worked-- Illinois or Washington DC, for example. Think about selling either at a regional auction, through a local antique dealer, or by approaching potential retail buyers directly.

    Whether you consider this prognosis as good or bad news is up to you. Unfortunately, you decided in advance and without adequate knowledge of the art market that your painting was important before consulting experts, so feeling let down is understandable. You're not alone here, by the way-- people independently decide that they own highly important works of art all the time, without ever consulting art business professionals.

    The problem these people create for themselves is that once they hear the truth about their art for the first time from qualified professionals, they either refuse to believe it or they waste years searching the world for an expert who'll eventually agree with them. Best procedure when evaluating any antique, collectible, or work of art that you own is to sit back, assume nothing, reserve judgement, and let the experts decide. Learning the facts in advance is a lot less painful way to go.

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