An Expert's Guide to Buying Fine Art: How to Start Your Art Collection

With today's technology, art collecting is now accessible to everyone. You can purchase pieces online through e-commerce stores, or go through traditional channels such as galleries and curators. 

Anyone can be an art collector. However, you must educate yourself on best practices for buying art to ensure you understand the market. By building a solid foundation of art knowledge, you will well-equip yourself to build a strong, meaningful collection of fine art. 

Tips for Buying Fine Art:

No matter what type of art you collect, there are universal tips that will benefit all art collectors. Below are the best tips from Alexander Salazar, fine art dealer.

Understand the Periods of Art

Throughout time, different periods, movements and techniques have created unique styles of art. Each time period features a unique perspective on art. 

Knowing the different art periods and what they contributed to art theory as a whole allows you to better understand the landscape of the art world. Western art and Eastern art have different periods of art. Below are examples of different periods:

  • Medieval Art (500–1400) 
  • Renaissance Art (1400–1600) 
  • Baroque (1600–1750) 
  • Rococo (1699–1780) 
  • Neoclassicism (1750–1850) 
  • Realism (1848-1900)
  • Expressionism (1905-1920)
  • Cubism (1907-1914)
  • Surrealism (1916-1950)
  • Abstract Expressionism (1940s-1950s)
  • Pop Art (1950s-1960s)
  • Minimalism (1960s-1970s)
  • Contemporary Art (1970-Present)

There are many other periods of art to explore, but these periods each had a significant impact on the art community.

Stay Updated on the Current Environment

It's important to have an understanding of what types of pieces are popular. Trends change, so staying up-to-date can help you spot early trends. This also helps to identify timeless pieces that will hold their value over long periods of time. 

Visit art galleries on a regular basis, both in-person and online. Note the commonalities between galleries and artists to spot techniques and types of art. 

By doing this, you also discern what type of art you are drawn to. 

Research the Artist 

Be sure to do your due diligence on the artist and period. Does the artist have a following? Are they consistently creating new works and collections? How many exhibits are they featured in?

By researching the artist, you can find similar styles from other artists. Consider exploring exhibitions through online databases and catalogs. This strategy will help you grow a focused art collection while also build on your education. 

Ask for Paperwork & Documentation

If you're purchasing art by a well-known artist, it is important to confirm the piece is genuine. Is the documentation from a credible source? Has a professional authenticated the artwork?

By asking for documentation and reviewing the paperwork, you can verify authenticity and ownership. If you're not sure what the paperwork should look like, you'll want to consult experts to review the paperwork for you. You could also find references online to compare against. 

If you're buying art from an auction house, they often authenticate the pieces prior to putting the piece up for auction. Reputable art dealers will also authenticate the work before listing it for sale. This is why it's important to work with trusted art dealers. 

Check for Damage or Signs of Restoration

Before you purchase the piece, you'll want to look over the work in detail. While you won't be able to spot all damage, it's important to ensure there are no glaring defaults in the piece.

Again, art dealers and auction houses will usually perform this check prior to putting it up for sale. However, it doesn't hurt to double check the work. 

Past Pricing Matters: Research It!

Before you purchase a piece, do your research. Who was the previous owner? How much did they pay for the piece? 

You don't want to low ball a dealer or auction house, but you also don't want to overpay. By knowing the purchase history, you'll have an understanding of what the piece is worth. Remember, value is relative. There may be a buyer who places a higher value on a piece because they prefer that style of art or have sentimental ties to the piece. 

Keep the Documentation Together

It's important to keep the documents on hand if you decide to sell the piece in the future. Other buyers will want to go through the same steps above to verify the authenticity of the piece. You will want to keep handy:

  • Bill of Sale
  • Certificate of Authenticity (if available; if not, you may consider having it authenticated)
  • Provenance Report
  • Condition of Report
  • Edition Number

Other documents to gather, include artists information, biography and previous exhibition history. The more information you can provide, the better. 

Ensure Proper Care After Purchase

Don't forget to take care of your piece after you purchase it. Most works come with care instructions that lay out the best way to ensure longevity of the work.

Follow those directions as closely as possible. This protects your investment and will provide the best odds for the piece holding it's value. It also makes reselling easier if you decide to relist the piece.  

 

By following these steps, you ensure you're informed during the buying process and getting a good value. No one wants to get ripped off when buying art...

If you notice your piece is starting to show wear, consider restoring it. However do not attempt restoration yourself. Consult a museum curator or art restoration company to do the work for you. Let the professionals handle that.