Valuation Of An Artwork

Podcast (11.01 min) | 15 mins read

Valuation Of An Artwork
June 28, 2020 Chaitya Shah



When a collector buys an artwork he is not only buying someone’s extraordinaire skills but also emotions, ideology and or philosophy of someone who is deeply engrossed in a subject since a long time (in the case of senior artists) and a passionate person with a vision (in the case of emerging one’s)

Many of us are familiar with several articles and news about how Warhol painting sold for $105.4 million at Sotheby’s or Francis Bacons’ “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” sold for $142.4 million after six minutes of bidding in the room and on the phone at Christie’s in New York, the most expensive piece of art ever auctioned.

Meanwhile in India, MF Husain’s oil-on-canvas ‘Battle of Ganga and Jamuna’ sold for Rs 13.44 crore and sets a world record while ‘Boys with Lemons’ by Amrita Sher-Gil, which was never auctioned before, sold for Rs 15.68 crore at SaffronArt.

These prices can be called auction prices. An auction price is the mix of the current market price of the artist + the premium you pay for the extraordinary quality ,rarity, and age of the object.

The Confusion

Auction prices are different from the prices quoted for artists (mainly living artists) in the primary market. Let’s start with several questions which mostly all first-time buyers face: How are they priced? How would you know what the actual MRP is? How does the pricing of an artwork work in a primary market? How does one decide its pricing? On what basis will you know if we are buying at the right price? What is the process of valuation? How does an artwork is priced before it is exhibited on walls?

Deciding Parameters

Art like other products is seen as a commodity when it comes to the ‘market’. However, this commodity gives you soul experience and a visual delight. A commodity that enhances your life and adds a better living experience be it home or office! Few of the basic norms or parameters that decide the pricing of an artwork are:

Education: Does it really matter how educated the artist is? To a certain extent YES. Though art is all about creativity, a strong fine arts base gives an artist wings to explore and expand himself in perspective to skills and thought process which otherwise can limit an artist’s scope to spread his vision and art!

Exhibitions: Where has he/she exhibited? In London, Paris, Singapore, or Mumbai? With whom? Leading art galleries or curators? How many? To have an opportunity to consistently present oneself amongst the best of industry colleagues and spaces speaks a volume for artists and their works.

Style and Variation: A first-time buyer may have doubts if his selected artist is not a ‘one-time wonder’ or knows only one style to paint or draw. Brownie points are added to an artist’s value when he can work in various subjects and adapt to different styles and mediums. By that, one can judge his mastery over his art and craft and understands he has the ability to offer.

The Collectors: The one who invests, collects, and buys in an artist’s work. Who are they? Are they good at collecting or buying art just for the sake of investment? Are they serious collectors? Do they have a good taste for art? Their reputation as a collector matters the most!

The Place: Unless we avoid politics and lobbying, why would a reputed public, and private organization or for that matter a museum buy a particular artist’s work? They must have seen something in the artist and his work. Isn’t it? To have one’s work collected by such an organization like an MNC or large corporation is a great deal for an artist’s career and that surely boosts up his pricing.

Age and Publication: These points are very subjective but such parameters cannot be ignored. After going through the checklist, if an artist’s work is good enough at a young age, then what will be his future? Bright, for sure! Is he coming from a city that has a rich collection of heritage and culture? Does that help the artist? Yes, in a way his background is already nurtured since childhood.

What about publication? To get featured in a good publication or having a book on your art is very crucial. Unless a paid article, who will give you free pages in this world. Who wants to know about the artist and his art? That means he has something to say and contribute which can matter to society.

All of these components help to decide an artist price ‘per sq. ft.’ so, the next question will be:

Why Is The Pricing Based On Sq.Ft.?

To many, buying art on sq.ft. feels like they are buying floor tiles. The basic idea is to bring transparency and fairness in dealing. In this way, we create universal pricing for the artwork depending on the size.

Art is like an emotional product and sentimental work of an artist. How can you value an emotion? How to fix the price of a sentiment?

If a seller (be it an artist, curator or gallerist) is not satisfied with a particular work he can sell the work for INR 5,000. On the other hand, if he is in love with that work he can sell it for INR 50,000 in June and maybe INR 70,000 in July depending on his liking, mood and his financial appetite.

If that is the case, a buyer is at a loss because he is not paying for the quality of the work but the current mood of an artist.

Speaking of the art galleries, if they want to sell a fresh work or a collector who wants to sell a few works from his collection, they know the universal price based on the sq.ft. is ONE.

Now, let’s imagine we do not fix prices on the basis of sq.ft. each seller (artist, curator, promoter, gallery, and collector) will quote different prices based on various factors, which will lead to mistrust and chaos in the art market.

It should be noted that if a seller hikes 5-10% on his ‘favourite’ work is normal and if discounts the work is also cool. It is their personal decision. However, what we are discussing here is the basic and standard price or in simpler terms the MRP of the work.

Who Decides The Price?

At a macro level, basic pricing is derived from any country’s economic and cultural environment. Speaking at a micro level, generally it is understood that depending on the demand and supply formula the price of an artwork is decided.

But the point is, how can one decide the price of an emerging artist or an artist who has just passed out from an art college? Hence, only the demand factor doesn’t come in help here. A well-experienced gallerist and its curator, along with the artist decides the pricing in most of the cases.

Buying at the right price?

Every person can feel his own guts and conviction. While going to buy a shirt, we all know looking at the shirt if it’s expensive or not. Do we know what components are used? The cost of raw material or the kind of fabric used in it? All we check is if it looks cool on us and co-relate that coolness with the price. If both matches, we buy it. Something within us tells us whether to buy or not at a given price.

This may happen because of our perception, the society we live in, the surrounding we belong to, etc. or maybe our needs and wants.

The same thing applies when you go for art shopping. Conviction and trust are two important things to remember. By looking at art, do you feel the price quoted is worth it? If not, then ask the representative WHY? For that, the first step is to go to a reputed and trusted brand ie. art gallery or curator. To earn extra 1000s or a few lakhs no reputed brand would risk its image. And the second step is to see as much as art you can see. Experience always helps!

Curator’s Approach

Personally, quality remains at the top of my list. I fix the base price calculating the artist’s thought process, devotion for his craft and intention to work in the future. It’s all about dedication and love for your art. Only then an artist can grow. When an artist grows his monetary value automatically escalates.

I do not believe in creating unnecessary hype for the artist or his works in order to increase his ‘value’. The more you hype the faster the artist falls.

I prefer to focus on promoting and reaching out to people on the basis of quality, skills, and mindset of the artist. It will take time for its price to see an upward trend but it will ‘cement’ its place. The idea is to rise and not fall.

I hope this blog was helpful in knowing the process of valuation of an artwork. I hope you start looking at artworks in a different perspective. So, the next time you go and buy a painting check out this video, blog or podcast and take a quick revision!

Till then, Happy Collecting!


The mentioned information is derived from my experience of over 16 years in the Indian art market. It is not a fixed formula or mentioned in any art/rule book. The idea is to share the market norms with a wide range of audiences to educate them about art and its market. The parameters mentioned above are in trend in the Indian art market. The said parameters and its application may differ by geographical, economic, social, and cultural factors. The price calculation mentioned is mainly counted for the original painting and should not be considered for the other forms/medium of art.