There are a few ways to go about selling a work of fine art that you own. Outlined here are the three most common routes: private sellers, auction houses, and consignment. All have pros and cons, and depending on your art and individual needs, one might work better for you.
When selling to a private buyer, individual or gallery, the most obvious benefit is that the sale takes place immediately. The buyer will acquire the art as is, with no additional cost to you to prepare the art for sale. You will also immediately get the money in your pocket from the sale. Depending on the reasons for your sale, this is something to take into consideration. On the flip side, galleries do not buy at retail price – you will most likely never make as much from a private sale as you could on consignment or at auction. However, it is a much more reliable route to take. Going with a gallery could also be a good decision if your art is by an artist who has an established and proven market, but is not currently “hot”. For example, Old Master Prints. Galleries that specialize in niche artists or time periods are more likely to have access to buyers specifically interested in those works. Private sales also guarantee more privacy for the seller.
Another option available to sellers is consignment. In this process, the seller and the dealer work together. A consignment agreement is drawn up between the pair, including a time limit on the consignment and an agreed upon sales price. The dealer will conserve the piece as needed and market it in their gallery. Upon the time of sale, the dealer will receive a commission, and the majority of the profits will go to the seller. There are benefits to consigning, but it is important to understand the process fully before consigning your art. One large benefit to consigning is that if the piece sells, you are most likely to make more money than selling outright to a gallery. Consigned pieces can be priced more highly by the gallery because they have not invested much in the piece on the front end. The biggest concern is the if. Galleries may have less incentive to sell your art, because their profit will be smaller than selling a work that they own outright. If your work does not sell, it will be returned to you. If you are not in a hurry to sell your art, consignment is a very good option for sellers. Make sure to find a gallery that specializes in your type of art or the artist, and limit consignment time to 6 months – 1 year.
Finally, there are auctions houses. Auction houses pose some difficult questions for the seller. On the one hand, established auction houses can be preferable for their clientele base, as well as the opportunity to see your piece bid up and sold high. However, auction houses have costs that some other buyers might not. Auction houses typically have high commission as well as additional fees. Other downsides to selling at auction are that you have to work on their calendar and there is always the potential that your work might not sell, which could lead to devaluation. It is advisable that you keep your piece off the market for a few years if this is the outcome. All in all, auctions promise potentially high rewards, but there can be wait time and added costs before selling your work, and there is always the concern that your work will not sell at auction. The best works to sell this way are the ones that have been performing well in recent sales.