How to Bid for Art on ebay: Art Picks From Ebay

This is the first installment in an instructional series of 24 articles designed to teach online aucton bidders how to dissect and analyze descriptions of works of art that sometimes appear for sale on the internet auction site, eBay. The series began in 2001, but it is still entirely relevant today. Understanding exactly what sellers' eBay descriptions mean can be a tricky business; hopefully it'll be a lot less tricky once you learn a few tricks yourself...

Should I bid or not? Is the art unquestionably by the artist the seller says it's by? Is the art worth what the seller says it is? Is the art as important as the seller says it is? Should claims that sellers make be taken seriously and, if so, how seriously? What does the seller's language mean? What if any questions should I ask the seller before I bid? These are just some of the issues addressed in this series of how-to articles written specifically for eBay art bidders.

You see, eBay does not actively police their auction offerings, but rather depends on emails from dealers, collectors, experts, buyers, and potential buyers to notify them of problems relating to particular works of art. Any seller can describe any work of art in any manner that he or she chooses, and as long as no one complains, that art sells to the highest bidder. As a result, eBay and similar online auction sites are among the most dangerous places for uninformed or inexperienced collectors to buy original art.

Every article in this series features a particular work of art that has been placed up for sale on eBay. The complete title, description, and some or all of the images posted by the seller are reproduced as they appear on eBay, and the seller, by way of eBay, is always credited as the source of all such information. At various points throughout each seller's description, comments appear in red italics. These comments reflect the types of thoughts and questions that occur to experienced dealers and collectors as they read descriptions of works of art that have been placed up for sale on eBay and similar online auction sites. at no time implies, makes, or intends to make any claims or express any opinions regarding the authenticity of any works of art that appear in this series.

Each installment in this series includes the title, description, and several or all of the photographs of an actual item that has been for sale on eBay, as put online by the item's seller. credits the seller, by way of eBay, as the source of all this information. comments appear in red italics throughout the eBay seller's description. And now for installment number 1 of "Art Picks from eBay."


This eBay seller's description originally appeared online as one long paragraph. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are as they appeared in the original for sale listing.

Seller's headline: "PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973) OIL/CANVAS 1928" comment: The title states that this is an oil painting by Pablo Picasso.

Seller's description: Museum quality oil on canvas, with European stretchers/crossbar. comment: The determination as to whether or not a work of art is "museum quality" is generally made by a qualified professional. No mention is made here of who judged this painting to be museum quality.


Seller's description continued: Painting measures approx 15 1/2 by 19 1/4 inches. Framed in a plain wood frame. Signed lower left "Picasso". Also, dated verso "5.3.28", upper center canvas. Stamps verso canvas. One stamp, upper left canvas verso is in French and all I can make out are the words "Gallerie" and "des". Please see pictures. The other stamp, lower center canvas verso, is also faded - but I can make out the word "Durand". This could be a canvas maker's mark, gallery mark, Expert seal, or other. I know there was a French dealer named Durand (Durand-Ruel). comment: The seller is combining facts with conjecture.



Seller's description continued: Condition: I have examined this painting with a large blacklight. There is a layer of thin varnish or glazing that is flaking off the painting. I don't know if this condition problem will need total removal of this layer or filling/inpaint of said layer. There is no inpaint on this painting. The signature does not float or flouresce under. The painting is in untouched, un-restored, damaged condition. No holes or rips, however. It is attached to stretchers with tacks and not staples. The painting has flaking areas other than the afore mentioned, esp. center upper left. It also has cracks and wavy canvas. Provenance: Sale, Alderfer Auction Co., Hatfield, PA. Listed in catalog as a Picasso, sold "as is". comment: Alderfer is a respected auction company with a staff capable of researching consignments before placing them up for sale and, once researched, representing them accurately in their auction catalogues.

Seller's description continued: Although a professional in the art field, I am not an officially recognized Expert on Picasso and therefore cannot guarantee any more than the fact that I have accurately described the physical condition and nature of this painting. comment: As "a professional in the art field," wouldn't this seller have the ability to research the painting before placing it up for sale on eBay? Wouldn't he want to? At the very least, he can send photographs to Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses in New York City. Their staffs can check Picasso's catalogue raisonne, a set of books which lists all of Picasso's paintings, in order to determine this picture's origin. Either auction house would be delighted to sell an original Picasso oil painting dating from 1928 and would thoroughly research such a painting.

Seller's description continued: To the best of my knowledge, this painting has not been examined by any official Expert. comment: Why would anyone who suspects that they own an original Picasso painting make no attempt to determine whether or not it is genuine by showing it to a qualified expert?

Seller's description continued: I have done some internet research on Picasso paintings. I have posted pictures of details of known Picasso paintings which I feel relate to this oil. comment: What qualifications does this seller have that permit him to make scholarly comparisons between his painting and known Picassos?

Seller's description continued: These pictures will appear just after the pictures of the painting up for auction here - there are 7 detail comparison pictures. I found this painting to have Picasso's (post) cubist style, palette, characters with arms hitting the floor, triangle noses, robot-like figures, geometric shapes, etc. comment: Did he say "characters with arms hitting the floor?" Once again, if this seller is not a Picasso expert, what qualifies him to draw such conclusions?

Seller's description continued: Winning bidder to pay s/h/i, which will be actual cost, and will depend upon shipping destination and cost of insurance. I've started this item at one penny, and am selling it at NO RESERVE in order to encourage bidding comment: Dealers and collectors who own Picasso oil paintings are not ordinarily inclined to place them up for sale on eBay with opening bids of one penny and no reserves.

Seller's description continued: Any interested party is welcome to visit me and examine the painting. Thanks for viewing my auctions! comment: Sold for $2,775.00 with 58 bids. Stay tuned for our next "Art Pick From eBay."

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