Enriching today’s décor with exceptional paintings from the past

How to judge the value of fine art

"Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." – Oscar Wilde

Today the term "fine art" encompasses many types of art movements, including modernism. When viewing modern abstract art, you typically just see colors and shapes. These so-called works of art are built more upon the contemporary artist’s brand and less upon their talent as an artist. We have all seen the articles where these so-called pieces of modern art have sold for millions of dollars. Unlike modern art, when a quality 19th century fine art painting is hanging on your wall, you do not need to try to explain what it is you are seeing. People intuitively know that the work of a very talented 19th century artist captured true beauty and the painting is not some modern fad hung for shock value or another emotional response, not aligned with beauty.

An original piece of fine art tends to be considered more of a luxury item purchase using discretionary funds. Fine art is typically not your average commodity, such as a new automobile, big screen TV, or basic necessities such as food and shelter. Fine art is subjective and the value of fine art is also, therefore, totally subjective. People who love 19th century fine art know that this style of art brings true beauty to the décor within their home. Fine art, however, is not for everyone and some folks view a purchase of fine art as unnecessary or frivolous.

An article published at the end of 2017 states that the fine art market has grown 113% in 10 years. For every article such as this, however, there are an equal number of articles that discuss the cyclical nature of the fine art market. Like most luxury items, fine art tends to sell well in good economic times and poorly in times of an economic downturn. It is unfortunate, but there are folks who view fine art strictly as an investment vehicle. In our opinion, these people would be better off to speculate on the stock market or flip a house for a short-term return on their investment. In summary, buying fine art is primarily an aesthetic investment and not purely a financial investment.

The price of an item is typically considered when purchasing a needed commodity. For example, when comparison shopping on the internet, you can view thousands of mass produced items that are identical, except for their price. Fine art is unlike standard commodities, where one brand can typically be substituted for another. Rare one-of-a-kind original 19th century paintings are by definition irreplaceable and they are, therefore, valued accordingly. People don’t purchase fine art because they have to buy it for a day-to-day necessity; they buy fine art because they want to buy it. Customers buy a particular 19th century painting from Bedford Fine Art Gallery because they love it. A connection is made and our customers bond with the artist and the painting. Our customers love many aspects of the particular unique original 19th century painting they select, such as: the composition, the artist’s palette of color, its quality, its style, the craftsmanship, the artist’s history/talent, etc. Every painting has a story and they love to share this with friends and family.

Unfortunately, in today’s fine art market, a certified appraisal of a piece of fine art may not be worth the paper it is written on. This is not because certified appraisers are not professional or ethical, but it is instead due to the high volatility in what paintings are sold for at auction houses (where the appraisers typically review data to determine the fair market value of a particular piece of fine art). As an example, a specific painting had an estimated price of $2,000 to $3,000 at a May 6, 2017 auction. The painting failed to sell at that auction. The same painting was then estimated at $1,000 to $1,500 for a November 11, 2017 sale at the same auction house. This time, six months later, the same painting at the same auction house was sold for $5,940. Another painting by this same artist was estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 at a different auction house for a April 18, 2018 sale. The painting exceeded the expert’s estimate, of between $10,000 to $15,000, and sold for $37,500.

The bottom-line is that, in a somewhat unpredictable fine art market, we are honored our customers trust the value we place on each of our paintings, knowing that we are honest, fair and reasonable. Bedford Fine Art Gallery is unlike any other gallery or auction house. Whether it is a visit to our website, their first phone call to us, or a visit to our gallery, customers immediately sense our passion for 19th century fine art. Unlike other galleries and auction houses, selling fine art is not our primary or only job. We are both full-time geologists and our gallery is a direct off-shoot of our love of fine art for the past 30 years. We do not have the overhead that almost all galleries and auction houses have, because we own our building (which is our 1889 Victorian home in historic Bedford, PA!), we own almost all of the fine art we sell (i.e. we only have a few pieces on consignment), and we do not have any employees. This coupled with the fact that we sell only the highest quality paintings from well listed artists, ensures that our customers get the best value. Finally, it is important to mention that, although we have no control over the overall fine art market, we give all our customers a trade-in promise that guarantees the value of the original fine art they purchase from Bedford Fine Art Gallery will never decrease in value.

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