Whether you're researching a family heirloom or a yard sale find, your investigating can be rewarding.
Start with what you already know and document it. Do you know the title, what's the subject, what medium was used, are there different textures, what technique was used, is a date listed, are there any numbers or names shown. Write a complete description of the work. Next, take a photograph of the work from all sides with a measuring stick to give a sense of scale.
If provenance was not provided when you acquired the art, start with yourself and how you acquired the piece. Keep any documents, letters, and photographs that would help to support authenticity and date range.
When you have documented every fact you know about the work, you can then search for library materials and websites that provide additional information on the medium, style, period, nationality or individual artist.
You might start with the The Dictionary of Art by Grove at the Library Center. Grove’s has a wealth of information about artists, art techniques, materials, and art movements. The Smithsonian American Art Museum also has an art research guide that can be downloaded.
Establishing a fixed value to a work is difficult. There are many factors that are considered; condition, personal interests of both the seller and buyer and trends in the market. Price guides can help determine current sale and auction prices.
If you need the value of art for insurance, you and your insurance agent may be able to agree on an insured value based on the price you paid for the item. If you have no record of purchase or received the item as a gift, your agent may refer you to someone they consider reliable or you may need to contact a professional appraiser.
Online Pricing Resources
iCollector - A free database of 1.1 million sales of fine arts at auction. It gives you access to online auctions, auction catalogs, dealers, and gallery directories.
AskArt - Find buyer information on artists worldwide
ArtPrice - Art market information
ArtFact - Find and price art
Getting an Appraisal
You could also consider having your work appraised to determine the value. Although the following organizations don't provide appraisals, they publish a directory of their members and can get you contact with the right professional.
American Society of Appraisers (ASA)
Some auction houses host free "open house" days where visitors can bring in their artworks and have auction-house staff members share their expertise. Other houses allow owners to mail their information with a photograph, and their experts will respond.
Bonhams & Butterfields
220 San Bruno Avenue
San Francisco CA 94103
(offices also in Los Angeles and Chicago)
20 Rockefeller Plaza
New York NY 10020
William Doyle Galleries
175 East 87th Street
New York NY 10128
Freeman/Fine Arts of Philadelphia, Inc.
1808 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia PA 19103
Phillips de Pury & Company
450 West 15th Street
New York NY 10011
63 Park Plaza
Boston MA 02116
Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers
7034 Wisconsin Avenue
Chevy Chase MD 20815
1334 York Avenue
New York NY 10021
Adam A. Weschler & Son, Inc.
905-909 E Street, NW
Washington DC 20004
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