How to Buy an Antique Abstract Painting

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How to Buy an Antique Abstract Painting

Painting has been practiced throughout much of human history, and is a popular and widely available type of art. The most recognisable painting materials used today are canvas paintings, often made out of fabric such as cotton which is usually stretched over a wooden frame.

Many different artistic movements have emerged over the centuries which have produced all kinds of unusual and interesting painting. One of the most influential movements which emerged at the start of the Twentieth Century was abstract paintings, which are often interesting and unusual to look at, and express a great deal through use of colour and form.

Many different antique abstract paintings can be found on eBay in a variety of types. This guide aims to provide quality information on these different types, as well as, provide guidance on how to buy a perfect antique abstract painting.

Antique Paintings

There are a number of different eras which paintings are commonly classified into. The era a piece of work falls into can be defined by the time it was created.

  • Antique paintings are widely considered to be those painted before the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Many of these paintings are more realist in nature, and recognisably based on physical reality. However, some early examples of abstract painting can be found in this era. Antique paintings, due to their age, are sometimes more expensive and harder to obtain than more recent works, though price often depends on the fame and popularity of the artist as well.
  • Modern paintings are often considered to be those painted after the start of the Twentieth Century and abstract and other more experimental forms of painting began to emerge here.
  • There is often a great deal of debate over the specific dates of these periods, and many may have different definitions. Often, earlier decades of the Twentieth Century may be considered as part of the antique period.
  • Paintings made later than the modern period are considered to be contemporary paintings, and this era stretches up to the modern day.

Painting Materials

There are numerous different kinds of paints, and each has different properties and results in a different finish. Artists often have a preferred type of paint, with which many of their works will be painted. Many collectors may also have a preference on which kind of paint they prefer to collect, with the choice often being down to the personal preference of the individual collector.

Oil Paint

Oil painting is one of the oldest kinds of painting, with its use dating back to the fifth century. The popularity of oil painting has endured throughout the history of the art form, and has been used by numerous artists and in a range of different styles. Oil paints are made with a coloured pigment which is suspended in a 'drying oil', and poppy oil, walnut oil and linseed oil have all been used. Different oils can give paintings different characteristics and different finishes, such as protection against the yellowing of the paint with age.


Watercolours are another very old kind of paint. This kind of paint has a long history of use in China and Africa, and later spread throughout Europe. Unlike in oil paints, watercolours suspend the pigment in a water soluble fluid. The most traditional materials for use with watercolours include paper, papyrus, leather, wood and canvas. Watercolours are usually transparent, though can be made opaque, and a thicker kind of watercolour known as gouache is also available.

Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints became widely used much later than oil or watercolour paints, and paintings made with acrylic paints are very rarely considered antique. Acrylic paint is diluted with water before use, and can be modified with the use of gels and other media.

Surface Materials

Aside from paints, the surface to which the paint is applied is also a key element of a painting. A wide range of materials have been used for this purpose, and there are a few key types commonly available today.

  • Many antique paintings are painted upon canvas, which has been long been in use. Canvas was commonly made out of materials such as linen and cotton, and stretched over a wooden frame. Canvas provides a porous surface which absorbs paint, making them a popular option for watercolour and oil painting. Canvas paintings are very often displayed in frames.
  • Boards of wood and similar sturdy materials have also often been used, and they provide a rigid, solid base for paintings.
  • Paper has also been used, with heavy paper being preferred to withstand the wet paint.  Other rarer materials include glass and leather.

Abstract Paintings

Abstract paintings are a widely popular type of painting, and the artistic movement began to emerge in the early years of the Twentieth Century. Abstract painters do not take visual references from the real world, and their work can appear as a chaotic, anarchic combination of form, colour, and line. Particularly famous kinds of abstract painting include the Italian Futurists, whose work focused on youth, technology, speed and violence, and the Cubists, a movement pioneered by Pablo Picasso.

Antique Painting Subject

There are numerous different subject matters which abstract painters have painted throughout the history of the medium, and there are a few key popular subjects that are commonly available. Sometimes, the subject of particularly abstract works may not be immediately apparent.

  • Paintings of people, and portraits, are a popular choice for painters and collectors, including those of abstract work. Many abstract artists have also painted abstract self-portraits.
  • Animals are another widely popular subject for paintings, both abstract and realist. Domesticated animals are often the subject, with wildlife and birds also popular.
  • Still life is another type of subject matter. Broadly used to refer to paintings of inanimate objects, still life is often realist. However, there are many abstract still life paintings, and some of the earliest examples of abstract work experimented with this form.
  • Landscapes have long been a popular subject for paintings. The most common subjects of antique landscape paintings are rural settings, featuring villages and countryside, though nautical and more urban settings were often popular.
  • Figure paintings and nudes are a popular type of abstract painting. These focus on the human form, which offers a great deal of space for an abstract artist to experiment in.

Researching a Painting

It can be beneficial to research a painting as thoroughly as possible before a purchase is made, particularly if the piece is an original. There are a few key elements to consider when considering an antique abstract painting.

  • Many sellers will include numerous pictures of an item. Paying close attention to these can be vital in ensuring that this painting is the right one. The decision on which painting to purchase often comes down to personal taste, and the available pictures can be an invaluable guide.
  • Reading an item description can be important, as sellers will often list important information about a painting such as the size and age of a print, the artist of the original work and the style of the piece.
  • If the piece is an original, the painting may come with ‘provenance’, documents detailing the history of a piece. These can include information such as previous owners, and the age and condition of the painting. This information can be important in ascertaining the authenticity of an original piece. This information is not always complete or available, particularly in the case of older antique paintings.

How to Buy an Antique Abstract Painting on eBay

eBay offers a wide variety of paintings, including antique abstract works. To view the full listings of available paintings, navigate to the Collectables & Antiques section. Antique Paintings can be found in the Paintings category, under Art. Items can be arranged by categories including price, condition, and distance to seller. It is also possible to choose between Auction and Buy it Now buying options, providing flexibility in how an antique abstract painting can be bought.

Prominent information about an item, such as the type and subject matter of the painting, will often be prominently displayed in the item listing. More detailed information about an item can be accessed on the item page, which includes information about the seller such as item reviews and feedback ratings. This ensures that an antique abstract painting can be bought with confidence. It is also possible here to ask the seller a question regarding the item.

If a specific antique abstract painting is required, it may be easier and more effective to use the search function available at the top of every page. Searches can be made to return results from the entire sit, or from within specific categories. More information on effective use of the search function can be found on the Search Tips page.


A wide range of paintings are available on eBay, including paintings from throughout history, and featuring many different artists, styles and subject matters. Antique abstract paintings can encompass a number of different abstract movements, offering a wide choice of unusual and interesting works, and can be easily found on eBay.

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