As the owner of European Art Underground, New Orleans Art Exchange and Guy Lyman Fine Art before that, I am sometimes asked about the ins and outs of buying antique paintings online. Is it risky? Is it better to buy from a gallery? Where are the best places to look? Those sorts of questions.
Here are some general guidelines.
Is the “good stuff” available online?
Most of the finest art in the world is available online. I don’t mean that you can enter your credit card and buy a Degas. But you CAN find the Degas in the inventory of the gallery that owns it. If you’re interested, you have to begin speaking with the gallery staff in person. Most galleries do not have e-commerce enabled (where you can check out as on Amazon) for various reasons, including rampant fraud for high-value items. But most make it very easy to order the art once you’re in touch with them.
Is it easy to get ripped off buying art online?
Absolutely. Little known to collectors is the fact that few antique paintings have provenance (histories) all the way back to the painter and original owner, with supporting paperwork. Even for dealers, it is sometimes hard to establish authenticity. Much depends on the reputation of the dealer. I see laughable fakes on eBay all the time. Others are hard to identify, because, for example, the forger has found a pretty good antique painting and added the signature of a painter whose style it resembles. Yes, there are ways to find this out, but you probably can’t do it yourself.
Where can antique paintings be found online?
Yes, you can actually find nice antique paintings on eBay. But it’s “buyer beware.” I’d never send an amateur collector to eBay to buy antique paintings. As mentioned above, most galleries showing antique art now have an online presence, so you can peruse their inventory. If you are interested, usually you will contact them with your questions or request to purchase. Most won’t have an online checkout process. Then there are the online art consolidators like Saatchi, Etsy, 1stDibs and others, with tens of thousands of paintings from galleries all over the world listed. The trouble here is that these services take commissions of up to 20% or more, so dealers have to jack up their prices on these sites in order to cover their costs.
Can you return the art if you don’t like it?
Great question. Often, you can’t. And this goes for galleries that sell directly to you on the street as well. It’s not like Walmart. For my own part, I would never buy from a dealer who does not have a clear return policy. European Art Underground and New Orleans Art Exchange feature a 125% buy-back policy, which is extremely rare in the industry. I don’t argue or complain, I happily take the art back. After all, I believed in it enough to buy it in the first place; most of my inventory is not consignment but owned outright by me.
Please feel free to send me any questions from the website: europeanartunderground.com.