It is daunting buying anything you haven't seen but it can be especially daunting buying art. After all, it is all about the visual. Here are a few tips before you start. I trained as a solicitor a number of years ago so I am focusing on the legal, as well as other, issues involved.
1. Buy from business sellers, or at least those with a track record. You will always have a right to return an item if it is not 'substantially as described' but with business sellers you have extra rights. For example, any item sold as a Buy It Now by a business seller HAS to be returnable (usually within 7 days but if you're very lucky you may get longer). No ifs and no buts, it's your right to return it (but you may have to pay postage/courier costs). You don't, however, have the right to return a work of art bought at auction unless it has been substantially misdescribed (or 'not fit for the purpose') .
2. Ask as many questions as you like, especially if important details are missing like measurements (we are all fallible!) Any seller of art worth his or her salt won't forget important details like the medium (oil, watercolour etc) and will usually - but not always - be able to tell you about the artist. Do remember 'Buy Now' items listed for 30 days can incur much higher charges for photos which may be why the seller has not included many but he or she may be willing to email adiditional photos upon request. I often do this myself. Ask about the condition if the seller hasn't mentioned it (although she ought to have done so). Restoration of artworks may be prohibitively costly but perhaps you don't mind a work being a little dirty, or you are prepared to fork out to send a watercolour away to have the foxing removed. By the way, if the listing says it is 'foxed' ask how much and, again, ask for more photos. Some foxing is often acceptable but too much and it spoils the painting completely.
3. Don't be put off by what you initially think is a high price. If you go to a real, live auction in person you can't expect to get a decent painting for a fiver, can you? Google the artist, look at auction house websites - the big ones like Christies and Bonhams allow you to search for paintings sold by them up to several years earlier. Try also www.artinfo.com which also gives information about prices for the works of listed artists sold internationally. Other useful sites include www.artprice.com but unless you have a subscription (expensive!) you will get only limited information.
4. Don't be put off by the absence of 'provenance'. Basically, all this means is where it's come from. As most art dealers buy at auction they often don't know which home a particular painting came from. A seller may be willing to let you know where she bought it but may be a little shy of giving you too much information (because then you may be able to find out what she paid for it!) If the seller appears to be expecting what you consider an unreasonable profit bear in mind she may have spent a whole day (or more travelling to an auction, waiting around for the lot to come up) and if she is lucky enough to make a mint on one painting she may well be selling another (or several others) at a loss.
5. Consider the framing and its condition. Reframing can be costly. It is usually easier, and cheaper, to reframe watercolours (just buy a second hand frame - even a print in a decent frame and buy a mount that fits the frame and your watercolour - that is often what I do). If you're not prepared to do this make sure a watercolour has a good mount as well as frame. I usually replace the mounts on the watercolours I sell. It doesn't break the bank.
6. Last but not the least important rule, the MOST important one: ONLY,
ever buy what you like. Yes, I know it's difficult. There is a lot of choice out there. But, regardless of the artist's reputation, regardless of what anyone else tells you,
you're the one who's going to have to live with it.
Happy bidding (or buying!)
Buying paintings on ebay
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17 July 2010
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