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Demystifying the first act of buying a work of art-hero-img

Demystifying the first act of buying a work of art

Eugénie Dumont - Art Collections Manager
The art market can be perceived as an opaque environment in which it is difficult to enter because it is governed by particular codes. The multitude of artists available, the lack of the necessary knowledge base, the sometimes exorbitant prices, can make the first purchase of a work of art tedious. Here is a practical guide that demystifies this first act of purchase to give you the ease and confidence to become a collector.

What you need to know

Step 1 - Choosing your direction

First of all, you have to choose the artistic trends, the periods, or even the artists that you like. Are we considering an eclectic collection, or is it more of a collection focused on African art? Each period and artistic trend is a market in itself, with its own risks that must be taken into account. For example, the price of a painting by an old master will be less volatile than that of a young artist in vogue.

Step 2 - Get an eyeful

Before making a purchase, it is important to get an eyeful by visiting galleries, museums and art fairs. The more we look, the sharper our eyes become and the more we notice similarities, originality, technique, emotions... The digitalization of the sector nowadays allows us to discover a lot of artists thanks to social networks, even if seeing the work "de visu" is preferable.

Step 3 - Define a budget

It is very important to define a periodic budget. Sticking to this budget, whether modest or substantial, will help frame the possibilities for the aspiring collector, but also for art dealers, who will be able to advise better. It is quite possible to buy several works of lesser value in the defined period, and the following period, to target a single work of greater importance.

Step 4 - Surround yourself with the right people

Once we have sharpened our eyes and made certain choices about the type of art we want and the budget we have planned, we may still be hesitant. In order to better clarify your choices, it is important to surround yourself with people you can trust and who can give you independent advice. It is possible to call on gallery owners, experts, art historians or even restorers. Beware, however, of conflicts of interest: commercial institutions may sometimes make biased proposals.

What you need to know

Step 5 - Take the necessary information

Once you have decided on a specific artist, it is essential to find out about his or her academic background, his or her performances in galleries or exhibitions, and the evolution of his or her market value. This type of information can easily be found on the Internet in certain databases, on the artist's website or on those of the galleries that represent him or her. A renowned academic background and growing representation in recognised institutions reassures you of the evolution of your career.

Step 6 - Obtain essential documents

Once the decision has been made, there is also a series of documents to be obtained before the purchase is made. These include the invoice and proof of authenticity, as well as the provenance and condition report for older works or works from the secondary market. These documents should be provided by the seller, whether a private collector or (through) a gallery.

Step 7 - Identify the quality

Finally, be careful to pay a fair price and choose a quality work. It is better to buy a high quality work by a lesser known artist, than a medium quality work by a well-known artist. There are various criteria for judging the quality and intrinsic value of a work. These criteria fall into three categories: objective, comparable and subjective criteria.

What to expect

Step 8 - Organise an inventory

An Excel file may be sufficient to maintain an inventory. As collections become larger and spread across different locations, it is best to work with specialised programmes.

Step 9 - Maintain works in good condition

A work in poor condition automatically loses its value, so it is important to keep the collection in good condition. For example, a bronze sculpture or a photograph requires different conservation conditions in terms of heat, light and humidity. For its durability, it is essential to call on specialists for the prevention, conservation and eventual restoration of the works in your collection.

Step 10 - Insuring your collection

Collecting presents risks. Theft, fire, partial deterioration, accident... You should not forget to insure your collection to avoid unpleasant surprises! A good insurance policy will always include a restoration and loss of value guarantee, and if possible, a "nail-to-nail" guarantee.
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