10 tips for buying art online


Buying art online can be a thrill, not least because the internet can give you instant access to work by thousands of artists you might not otherwise get to see in a gallery near you. But shopping for art online is very different from buying from a trusted gallery. Here are Private Art Investor’s tips for making sure your purchase goes smoothly.


  1. Check out the seller. Can they be trusted? If you’re buying from a site such as eBay, check out the seller’s buying and selling history. If you’re buying from an established online specialist art gallery or auctioneer, this is a good sign, but even when buying from the most respectable and well-established online art retailers, there are certain things it is wise to check, which brings us to…
  2. Ask about the condition of the work.  It’s fine – and very wise – to request a condition report. If the seller doesn’t know the condition, they should hire a conservator to take a look at the piece and provide you with a full disclosure of condition.
  3. While you’re at it, make sure you get any relevant information and evidence on provenance, including any exhibition history, and any publications in which the work is listed, pictured or mentioned.
  4. Make sure you know exactly what you are buying. Beware of the ‘hand touched giclee’ which is effectively an inkjet print that have been touched up with paint or other embellishments by the artist or, very commonly, by an assistant. It’s easy to mistakenly believe that these are more special and collectable than a regular print, but this may not be the case, especially if the picture you are buying is one of many. If the piece is a limited edition piece, find out how big the edition is and whether any other editions were made.
  5. If you’re trying to buy a work in an online auction, know when to walk away. Set yourself a limit and never allow yourself to bid more than you are comfortable paying in the heat of the moment.
  6. Research the artist. Most online retailers will include a short bio on the site, but check out where else they are selling and what kind of prices they seem to be fetching.
  7. If possible, check the auction history of the artist. If you’re serious about collecting, investigate sits such as artnet, where you can subscribe to a prices database in order to keep track of the prices achieved by the artists that interest you. But…
  8. When investigating the prices achieved by a particular artist, be wary of sudden hikes in price. This may be the result of a dealer or auction house artificially inflating the price, for example by getting employees to covertly bid on a piece, and it may tell you little about what the artist’s work will be worth in the future.
  9. Remember, it can be difficult to get a complete idea by looking at a computer screen of what a picture will look like in real life. If the website allows you to enlarge the image or try it out in a ‘virtual room’ then do so, but to be really sure you’re not about to make an irreversible mistake, check out whether they have a returns policy.
  10. As always, buy what you love. The art world is fickle and unpredictable, so don’t buy solely for perceived investment value, because you may find that in a few years that same piece is worth very little. If you love looking at it, that’s less likely to matter.