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April 3, 2011 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Appraisal experts, please help! My family has several paintings done by a now-deceased uncle, and we would like to get them appraised.

My great-uncle painted for years, mostly as a hobby, but occasionally for hire. I believe that he got his start doing murals for the WPA. He is now deceased, and the family has several of his paintings. To my knowledge, he never sold any of his canvases. I have done some Google searches, and I don't find his name listed on any artist registries, so it looks like he was primarily a hobbyist.

However, his later landscapes are beautiful, and feature recognizable landmarks around the area he grew up in. And there are far too many for our family to keep. How best can we determine a fair price for them, and find them a good home?
posted by backwards compatible to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why not offer the to a local historical society or museum in exchange for a tax deduction?
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:36 AM on April 3, 2011

Unless he has a reputation they are worth what they will achieve at auction, an appraiser is really a waste of time. If they are of serious local interest then put them into a local house clearance or antique auction, if they are of wider appeal then use eBay. If there are a lot, and they are of good quality and interest to the local community, call a local museum or art gallery with a view to having them shown and sold in a retrospective exhibition setting. If his art is good it may be worth building your uncle's reputation in this way before desposing of the works. A website will also help in this regard.
posted by fire&wings at 8:09 AM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

fire&wings is correct.
posted by aunt_winnifred at 8:18 AM on April 3, 2011

The appraisal of an artist's work relies on histories of sale and resale, with documentation. If they are compellingly great, and you could sell one for a high price, then that could carry over to the others.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:35 AM on April 3, 2011

See if you can interest a local gallery in representing your uncle's paintings. They will have an interest in cultivating buyers and getting good prices for the work.
posted by Scram at 11:02 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am not an appraiser, and I'm not your art dealer, but based on my dealings with antique dealers, auctioneer/appraisers, and my own experience with owning original art by unknown or unremarkable artists: A couple hundred bucks is the most you can reasonably expect, and somewhere around $100 is probably what you'll get. It's an absolute shame that art goes so cheap, but the art market is looking for known artists and top-notch works of art. I've got an unsigned and unattributed 200-year-old oil landscape on my wall that I think is gorgeous, and I paid $12 for in 1994, and two years ago an appraiser I know said maybe I could get $100 for it in the right venue but other than that $12 wasn't that bad.

If you have a lot of canvases -- several dozens -- talk to the higher-end auction house in your area and see what they would suggest. Setting up an art-only auction by one specific local deceased artist might result in higher prices than selling a couple in a consignment auction. The gallery showing might be good as well. Either way, the gallery owner and the auction house take a portion of the sale price, so it's in their best interest to sell the art at the highest price they can get for it.

Museum donation is a good idea, but your local historical society is probably tight for space (most museums are), and while the art may be cared for and properly stored, those paintings may just end up in storage and then deaccessioned eventually anyway. Maybe put the two together: have a charity auction which benefits the historical society.
posted by AzraelBrown at 3:34 PM on April 3, 2011

A couple hundred bucks is the most you can reasonably expect, and somewhere around $100 is probably what you'll get. It's an absolute shame that art goes so cheap, but the art market is looking for known artists and top-notch works of art.

None of this is true. The works could be exceptionally valuable, especially if they represent landmarks/locales which have disappeared or significantly changed. Local views will always sell to local people, whether the artist is known or not, and even if the work is of negligible quality. Even disregarding this angle there is no reason to cap the valuation for any reason - plenty of highly respected artists were unknown even after their death, and many "hobbyists" have been rediscovered and re-evaluated. There are several benefits with the artist in question - quality, local interest, and a body of work.

Despite this being an unknown hobbyist there is absolutely nothing in OP's question that indicates she is not selling "top-notch" works of art. Discerning collectors know quality, people who like decorative paintings sometimes don't. Both pay handsomely.

backwards compatible, if you posted some images we'd have a better idea of what the best course of action would be.
posted by fire&wings at 4:12 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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