How can I figure out if this painting has any value?
July 21, 2013 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I've had this painting for many years. It belonged to my grandfather. He owned an antiques store and he traveled a lot in China. I'm not sure where it came from/how he obtained it.

How can I figure out if it has any value? I'm not interested in selling it. I mostly just want to know how serious I should be about protecting it. My guess is the value is only sentimental, but I have no idea.

Bonus question: How can I protect/preserve it? It is already somewhat deteriorated and I'd like to make sure it doesn't get worse. I'm thinking to re-frame it under glass, but I don't know if that would affect its value (if it even has any)?
posted by doomtop to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Municipal art galleries and miseums often have in house experts who could help.
posted by BenPens at 6:56 PM on July 21, 2013

It looks like there is an artist's signature / chop on the lower left. Could you post a closeup of that?
posted by zippy at 7:41 PM on July 21, 2013

I've dealt with inherited art of mysterious provenance. It's worth having it appraised. A good appraiser charges either a moderate flat fee, or a percentage of the estimated market value, so it's not a giant investment unless the piece turns out to be massively valuable. You will want someone who specializes in Chinese art, and you should be able to get a reference from a high-volume general gallery (municipal or private) or from a specialty gallery that deals in Chinese fine art.

Any archival (fine art) frame shop should be able to talk to you about how to protect it. (The really obvious: keep it dry, keep it out of direct light (especially sunlight) and extreme heat, and keep it away from smoke, aerosolized anything, and bugs. Do not hang anything you value in your kitchen or bathroom.) Here's information about framing consistent with my experience. Basically, the point of framing is to create a protective airtight space over the painting to keep out damp, critters, and dust, and to cover it so that the UV light doesn't damage it, while still keeping the painting visible. Glass alone can't damage a painting, but what you do to put the painting under glass can - if the space isn't airtight or big enough to keep the art surface off the glass, if the matboard isn't acid-free, if adhesives are involved.

I see there's spotting on the surface - depending on what it is that caused the spots, you might want to have it cleaned and restored (because whatever it is might be continuing to damage the surface) - again, a good framing shop will be able to refer you, but be careful. Good restoration work is expensive and you really need someone who knows his or her stuff, because bad restoration is worse than doing nothing.
posted by gingerest at 8:28 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your profile indicates you're in the U.S., so you may find it worthwhile to search for an appraiser online through the Appraisers Association of America and the American Society of Appraisers. Most major auction houses (Christie's, Sotheby's, Bonhams, etc.) also offer appraisal services.

The American Institute for Conservation has a useful online resource center for finding and selecting a conservator. The type of conservator you're looking for will depend on whether your painting is on cloth or paper.

Someone at a local museum should probably be able to give you a recommendation for an appraiser or conservator in your area if you ask for one, but that may not be the most useful first line of inquiry. The professional associations to which most museum staff belong have codes of conduct that explicitly discourage them from evaluating artworks that are not in their care (or pending accession into the museum), and museums receive so many calls about mystery objects that many have a canned message handy to say that they can't be of help with such inquiries.
posted by Austenite at 12:38 AM on July 22, 2013

Forget local museums and appraisers completely and email Christies. Go to, find the relevant department and email any of the contacts (they need not even be in your country.) They will tell you what the painting is and give an idea of its value for free over email and without obligation. Do not trust local experts with things like this, deal with the best.
posted by mani at 2:59 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @zippy: As far as I can tell, there is no artist's signature.

I'm going to take some photos of the back as well and submit to Christie's. Their website says they only give estimates for items that are of a type and value typically sold at Christie's. Not sure if this qualifies, but it can't hurt to ask.

I live in a pretty small town. While there is a museum, it really doesn't seem like the type of place that would be very helpful with this. But the appraisers organizations will probably be my next stop.

posted by doomtop at 6:19 AM on July 22, 2013

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