How is an artwork priced?

Criteria used to price an artwork

The price of the an artwork can be set by the artist, gallerist, or art dealer. Several criteria are taken into account when deciding on a price:

- The artwork's size: Firstly, the price depends on the size of the artwork. The larger the artwork, the more materials and effort it requires, so the higher the price.

- The materials used: The price may also depend on the materials used by the artist. Sculptures made from bronze or steel are often more expensive because of the initial cost of the material. Furthermore, these materials require specific tools that can also be pricey.

- The technique(s) used: Though it is seldom said explicitly, there is a hierarchy between techniques used in various mediums (painting, sculpture, fine art drawing, artistic photography, and printing). This hierarchy between artistic techniques depends on their complexity, but also their overall popularity in the visual arts. For example, in painting, the most expensive and often most well regarded technique remains oil painting, historically one of the most often used techniques, and which is also considered harder to master (for example, it is considered to be more difficult to use compared to watercolour painting).

- The visual quality: Visual quality should not be confused with the faithful rendition of an object or person or with the work's beauty. The visual quality of an artwork depends on several aspects, such as the work involved in its composition, the complexity of the composition, the harmony or balance present the work, or its originality. Experts take all these elements into account when pricing an artwork and differentiate between works produced by one artist.

- The artist's national or international reputation: The main aspect that determines the price of an artwork is of course the artist who created it, their reputation, and the level of recognition they receive from by gallery owners, art experts, art dealers, and cultural institutions (museums, foundations, private collections, etc.). If you would like to find out more about what determines an artist's reputation, read our article entitled "How is an artist's reputation determined?".

Tip: On Artsper, you can find lots of information to help you understand the price of an artwork. For every artwork, its description contains the technique and materials used. You will also find a biography for every artist which includes where their artworks have been displayed (museums, foundations, collections, etc.) and whether they they have been classified as one of our famous, emerging or best selling artists.

Criteria used to price an artwork

In addition to the elements mentioned above, other factors also have an indirect impact on the price of an artwork. These include the transport and conservation costs that the artist or gallery have to pay for each sale.

They must also pay insurance for every artwork, the cost of which obviously depends on the price of the artwork itself. Finally, in the case of older works, it may be necessary to include the costs of having the work restored by experts and authenticated. Authenticating a work of art can be very expensive. The expert must trace the work's history to ensure it is authentic. The more information there is about an artwork, the higher the price can be because its history can play a crucial role in leading to a sale.

Finally, it should be noted that in the event of an auction, the artwork will simply go to the highest bidder, in which case its price depends on the collector's desire to own it.