It’s a question we get frequently from first-time clients who have a print or painting they’re ready to part with: how do I sell my art at auction? We can hear the hesitation in their voice, as if they should somehow understand the consignment process despite never having gone through it before. It’s an understandable uncertainty, as the auction world can seem intimidating to the uninitiated. As specialists, it’s our job to usher clients—both new and established—through each step of the process, providing guidance and expertise along the way.
While fairly straightforward, there are several things we recommend (and don’t recommend) to clients to make the consignment process easier for everyone involved.
- Gather your paperwork and compile the provenance. This may include invoices from the purchase of the piece, or catalogues in which the work previously appeared. Assuming you did not buy the work directly from the artist, provenance is helpful in establishing a history since the piece’s creation. If you have documentation regarding previous owners, dates of ownership, and how the work was transferred between those owners (either at auction or descent in the family through inheritance), as well as location, we’ll need to see it. Don’t worry if there are gaps in the provenance records you have, just compile as much as you can.
- Take photos. Your smartphone is fine, since you’ll be submitting these digitally, and most models these days have advanced camera capabilities. Sharp, well-lit photos are best, with as little glare or reflection as possible if the piece is under glass. Try to avoid flash, and choose a time of day where the natural light allows for the most accurate representation of the color as viewed by eye. Ideally, we like to see an overall photo of the work, a close-up of the signature and/or numbering and inscription (if available), and a few detail shots.
- Take measurements. If it’s a framed canvas, take measurements of just the canvas as well as the whole framed dimensions. If it’s a framed print under glass, or you’re unable to see the full sheet size under the mat, approximate dimensions are okay at this stage. (Inches, please!)
And once that’s all ready…
- Give us a call. This is where we come in. We’ll ask you to send an email with everything listed above, and give us a chance to review. We can only accept works by artists who have already passed through auction before, and who have an established auction history. If you’re unsure whether that’s the case for your artist, you can leave it to us.
- Clean, conserve, un-frame, unmount, or in any other way alter the work. We can’t stress this enough. Depending on the medium, you may unwittingly diminish the work’s value by cleaning or un-framing it. Many buyers at auction prefer to contract their own trusted conservator to complete any restoration or cleaning work. We usually recommend selling items as-is—there are exceptions, of course, but in this early stage, the less that’s done to the piece the better.