Help me price a 15th C oil painting
June 23, 2006 11:16 AM   Subscribe

FineArtFilter: I'm looking for a ballpark figure on a possible selling price of an oil painting, circa 1500 or so. I'm waiting for information from the museum which conducted research 40 years ago; in the meantime, any ideas?

I recently inherited an oil painting when my parents passed away. It's been in my family since I was a kid, just hanging on a wall in the living room, not protected from cigarette smoke or everyday life. It's a painting of The Annunciation, and shows Mary and the Angel in an architectural framing device - walls and roof of a room. Family history says that although it is unsigned, it has been dated by the type of paint to about 1480 or so, European in origin, but nothing else.

Does anyone have an idea, just a ballpark, of how much this could be worth? I called my homeowners insurance agent and he was clueless. While I am waiting for a return email from the National Gallery of Art, can anyone give me a hint?

posted by crepeMyrtle to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
From the info you gave, there is little way to answer the question. Are you sure it's unsigned, not signed beneath the frame?
Beyond not having a name, we don't have an estimate of quality. Is it a very good representation of X style from X school? Often even without a name you can nail it down to schools/influences at least country.
These are essential to answering the question: is it worth more than its frame?
Go to an appraiser or antiques dealer. Antiques dealer could probably answer what the bottom range is. The top range could be very high depending on the answers to the above questions.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:24 AM on June 23, 2006

Go straight to Christie's and Sotheby's. Photos are enough to get them going. Assuming it isn't a repro (or even assuming it is), they will be more than happy to give you a price.

(Don't suppose you could post a photo of it for the rest of us as well?)
posted by IndigoJones at 11:31 AM on June 23, 2006

yes, sorry for vagueness. some details: yes, it is unsigned, not just covered by the frame (which btw is quite nice). I've had suggestions that it might be from the Flemish school, but I do not have an art history background myself.

I just loaded a couple pictures up to flickr:
posted by crepeMyrtle at 11:33 AM on June 23, 2006

From the inadequate art history training I've received, I'd say it at least looks appropiate for the estimated time of creation.

Anyhoots, just as everyone else has said, go find yourself a good auction house like the ones mentioned above.
posted by Atreides at 11:51 AM on June 23, 2006

It isn't necessarily as valuable as you might think. We had a painting kind of like that when I was a kid, which was actually pretty old. It also wasn't worth much, which is why my mom was willing to buy it. It was a copy of a famous painting -- and that was the point. It seems that apprentice painters in that era would practice by trying to make copies of existing paintings by masters, and I gather that there are a lot of them running around.

Unless it's a painting by a name painter of the era, it might not be worth more than a few thousand dollars, if even that much.

(Really old books are like that, too. I used to own a couple of books which dated to the early 17th century. They weren't worth much; it turns out that literally millions of books were being published by that point, and since they were printed on rag paper a large proportion of them survive to this day.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:37 PM on June 23, 2006

You need to get it appraised. Your local fine art museum can likely give you a referral to a reputable appraiser in the area.

Not to be cynical, but family stories have a tendency to magnify the purported value and age of such things. Its value, even if it is as old as it is "supposed" to be, is based on a lot of variables. (IANAArtExpert, but my SO works at a fine arts museum. People who want to bequeath paintings to the museum sometimes are turned down, because the work is just not important enough to be worth aquisition.)

Or, what dances with sneetches said.
posted by desuetude at 12:42 PM on June 23, 2006

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