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How to Buy Art on eBay

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How to Buy Art on eBay
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How to Buy Art on eBay

eBay effectively offers one of the largest art galleries in the world.

From an antique 18th century oil painting to a contemporary bronze sculpture, buyers are bound to find a piece of art on eBay to suit any budget and taste.

Choosing from such a diverse range of art may seem like a daunting task. This guide is designed to make that task easier, offering important tips and guidelines for first-time and seasoned buyers alike.

Types of Art

First of all, you should have a basic idea of the types of art available to you on eBay.

If you navigate to the Art category, you will notice the following general categories to select from:

  • Artists (Self-Representing): Art that is listed by the artist themselves. Discover up-and-coming artists working in various styles and media.
  • Canvas/ Giclee Prints: Stock or personalised images spanning various subjects printed onto canvas.
  • Contemporary Paintings: Paintings created after 1980.
  • Drawings: Drawings created using various media, including pencil, pastel, ink and charcoal.
  • Folk Art: Art expressing various cultural and ethnic roots. Pieces vary from paintings and prints to carved boxes and ironwork.
  • Mixed Media: Artwork created using a combination of media, such as paint and ink or collage.
  • New Media: Art created using new media technologies. These include digital art, computer graphics and virtual art.
  • Paintings: Modern (1900-1979) and Antique (Pre-1900) paintings created using various types of paint, including acrylics, oils and watercolours.
  • Photographs: Photographic images spanning several eras, from antique black and white to contemporary high-resolution colour photographs.
  • Posters: Graphics or text printed onto paper for wall display. Styles vary from low-cost reproductions of artworks to movie, video game or event advertisements.
  • Prints: Prints of artwork usually done on paper, of which multiples can be produced. Types include digital prints, etchings, engravings, limited-edition lithographs, serigraphs and open-edition prints.
  • Sculptures: Sculptures of various shapes and sizes; created using materials such as wood, stone, bronze and marble.
  • Other Art: Any other forms of art that do not fall into the categories above.

Many of these categories also have sub-categories to choose from. There are, for example, three common subcategories defined by the age of the art: Contemporary (1980-Now); Modern (1900-79); and Antique (Pre-1900).  

Before we look in more detail at finding a particular piece of art on eBay, there are several general principles to consider.

Research

Research is undoubtedly one of the most important things to consider when buying art. There are many sources of information online, in relevant magazines and journals or through galleries and museums.

  • Artists: With original artwork, it is important to research the artist behind the piece. This may include their education, collections that their work is in, and gallery or museum exhibitions they have held.

If you already have a specific artist in mind, try to research their trademarks and average prices so that you can better authenticate the pieces on offer.

  • Media and Techniques: With the multitude of art techniques and materials that are worked with, you should explore the different options available to you.

From knowing the difference between acrylic and watercolour paints, to the difference between dye sublimation and ink-jet canvas printing, there is a wealth of information to research.

  • Originals vs. Reproductions: You should familiarise yourself with the difference between an original piece and a reproduction.
  • Originals: These are hand-crafted works created by the artist, such as an original painting or print. You can also find original digital art that is printed onto a material.
  • Reproductions: A reproduction is a copy of an original piece of art. The original piece may have been photographed or scanned before being mechanically or electronically printed onto various materials.

You should obviously expect to pay more for originals than for reproductions. Buying original art can be a very shrewd investment, especially if you have a keen eye for the big names of the future.

  • Look Around: eBay offers you the chance to browse hundreds of items in a very short space of time. The more you look at, the more defined your tastes will become. This will help to improve your chances of finding the perfect piece for you.

Because of the significant range of art available on eBay, you may unveil a preference that you never knew you had.

  • Seek advice: Art is a varied and complicated subject. There is a great deal of detailed information available to help you, such as in online guides or art books. Remember, you can also ask sellers on eBay for advice on specific topics.

All of this research may seem overwhelming, but it is the only way to familiarise yourself on the topic. The better you know the field, the more confident you can be that you are getting the right deal.

What to Consider

Before searching for a piece of art, you should bear in mind a number of important considerations.

  • Purpose: You will probably be looking to buy art for a specific reason. You may want to add to an existing collection, buy someone a gift, make a lucrative investment or simply decorate a bare wall. Try to keep the reasons behind your purchase in mind.
  • Location: Envisage the place you’re buying the art for. The amount of space available, colour scheme and lighting are important elements. What’s suitable in one room may not be in another.
  • Price: Art is a field where prices vary substantially, and it can sometimes be tempting to go over your budget. It is important that you think practically and economically when purchasing art on eBay.

On the left of any listings page, you can enter a specific price range to narrow your search results to artwork that falls within your budget.

  • Trust your Instincts: As a general rule for art, you should always buy what you love. Don’t try to persuade yourself to like an item it if it’s not quite what you’re looking for. After all, the perfect piece is probably out there; you just need to find it.

Caring for your Art

It is also important to research how best to maintain and care for your art. There are many tips and guidelines to follow depending upon the type of art you have purchased.

As a general rule, for example, all paintings and prints should be kept out of direct sunlight to minimise fading that is caused by UV exposure.

With the appropriate research you will find many other helpful tips, such as how to suitably frame, hang, clean or store your art.

Buying Art on eBay

Once you have decided on the piece of art you want, find it quickly on eBay.

Navigate to the Art category and then click on the category of art you are interested in.

Once you are on the correct page, you will notice several options on the left of the page. These can be used to help narrow your search results. In the Contemporary Paintings section, for example, you can select from:

  • Subject: Such as Abstract; Animals; Landscape/ Cityscape; and People & Portraits
  • Style: Including Cartoon; Impressionist; Pop Art; and Realism
  • Condition: Whether the painting is new or second-hand
  • Medium: Such as Acrylic; Oil; Pastel; and Watercolour
  • Date of Creation: What year the piece was painted in
  • Original/ Repro: If the painting is an original piece or a reproduction
  • Self-Representing Artist: Whether or not the work is listed by the artist.

It is also important to remember that you can always narrow your results by location. If you are uncomfortable buying art from international sellers, for example, you can select to see listings that originate only from the UK.

Keyword Search

If you are looking for a very specific item, you may find it more useful to use the Keyword search bar at the top of the page.

For example, if you are looking for a print by the artist Banksy, simply type “Banksy print” (without quotation marks) into the search bar and select “Art” from the dropdown category menu.

If you can't find exactly what you want, try browsing eBay Stores or tell the eBay Community what you’re looking for by creating a post on Want It Now, or save a search on My eBay and eBay will email you when a matching item becomes available.

Know Your Item

Before committing to a purchase, ensure that you know as much possible about the piece of art.

  • Item Description: Sellers should include as much relevant information as possible in the item description. This includes information about the artist, the style, the time period and the dimensions of the piece.

Sellers should also clearly and openly disclose any imperfections, repairs, restorations or damage done to the artwork.

If you are uncertain about some information given, you can try to verify its authenticity. If a piece is said to be created by a well-known artist, for example, you could research the artist’s portfolio to check that they have indeed created the artwork.

If you want more information, simply click the “Ask seller a question” button on the seller’s profile or the “Ask a question” link at the bottom of the item listing page.

  • Authenticity: Wherever possible, it is important to obtain proof that the piece you are purchasing is genuine.  Original art or expensive pieces will often be signed by the artist. High-value pieces should also be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity or provenance.
  • Pictures: Good sellers will include several pictures of the item they are selling. These may include photographs from different angles or distances. Examine these images carefully; this will give you a better idea about the piece and help you to avoid any surprises.

If you aren’t satisfied with the images provided, you can always contact the seller to ask for some different ones.

  • Note: Remember that a piece of art that is viewed online will never look quite the same in real life. When looking at a computer screen, it can be difficult to appreciate a sense of the true colours, textures or proportions of a piece.
  • Shipping: Remember to add delivery costs to your final price. If you’re buying a high value item, check that the seller will insure it until it is delivered to you.

You may also like to confirm how the item will be packaged, such as in bubble-wrap to protect fragile items.

  • Returns: Ensure that the seller offers a suitable returns policy, in case you change your mind and wish to send the item back.

Always complete your transaction on eBay (with a bid, Buy it Now or Best Offer) otherwise you will not be covered by eBay Buyer Protection.

Never pay for your eBay item using an instant cash wire transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram. These are not safe ways of paying someone you do not know.

Know your Seller

Research your seller so that you feel safe and positive about every transaction. This is particularly important when buying art.

  • What is the seller’s Feedback rating? 
  • How many transactions have they completed?
  • How many positive responses do they have?
  • What do buyers say in their Feedback? 
  • Are they positive about the seller?

Buyer Protection

In the very unlikely event that you do not receive your item or it is not as described, eBay Buyer Protection covers your purchase price plus original delivery cost.

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