Most art galleries carry work by contemporary, living artists rather than European paintings for sale. But have you thought about why? It’s because nearly all galleries sell on a consignment basis. They show the work of a stable of artists, and if something sells, they split the money. This keeps the gallery from having to spend capital actually buying the paintings.
This is one reason you do not see that many European paintings for sale in the U.S. In the vast majority of cases, particularly with antique paintings, and art gallery has to buy them outright, upfront. Then they sit on this capital expenditure, hoping to sell the art at a profit. It can take years – and sometimes, the art doesn’t sell at all, so it must be dumped at a loss, at auction for example.
This is why online art galleries such as European Art Underground are rather rare. The majority of art shown on the site is owned by the business.
When the dealer owns the art, you benefit
There is a good side to this: it’s that there is an implicit assumption that if the art is on the website, it was considered good enough to invest in. To sink real capital into, rather than just hang something (on commission) and hope it sells, with no risk.
Many people looking to buy European paintings have discovered eBay. The trouble with buying art from eBay is that you really don’t know the dealers (or individuals) who sell on it. On any given day, there are many fakes being sold – many of them quite obvious (signed “Picassos” being sold without a reserve) but some less obvious and expensive, and therefore assumed to be “real.” We have seen paintings in the under-$1000 range that are obviously faked. This isn’t that surprising when you consider that by buying a decently-painted work for $200 and selling it for $800, you’ve made a $600 profit without much effort.
Great places to start your search
If you are looking for European art, get to know sites like European Art Underground and New Orleans Art Exchange. There are solid guarantees and buy-back policies, scholarship and curating behind the art choices, and many advantages to shopping at sites such as these.