How do experts rate ancient art

Have a painting valued: it's that easy

There are numerous reasons one Appreciate paintings and so of that quality and Market value to be determined, be it in the context of an inheritance, to update an insurance policy or in preparation of the loan to a museum. However, the most common reason for an artwork appraisal is an upcoming sale.

Who does not know the stories of the loft find that was later sold for a record price. It was not until 2014 that a historical painting was discovered in the attic of an old villa in Toulouse. After a scientific investigation, it turned out that this initially inconspicuous work was a long-lost work by Caravaggio, the value of which the experts estimated at 100 to 150 million euros and which was sold discreetly in 2019 as part of a private sale.

But how can you determine the value of a work of art? Who can you contact if you would like a picture to be valued? What does the estimate cost and what information do you need for it? We will go into these and other questions in more detail below.


  1. Which factors determine the value of a painting?
  2. Where can you have works of art valued?
  3. What options do you have for estimating?
  4. What information is required for the estimate?
  5. Special features in the appraisal of art collections
  6. Are the experts liable for misjudgments?
  7. How long does it take to appreciate a work of art?
  8. Can you have artwork valued for free?
  9. What do you have to consider in the event of a sale?
  10. Addresses in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

What is an estimate? The appraisal of works of art is a complex process in which an attempt is made to make as precise a prognosis as possible for the sales price currently to be achieved on the market. As a rule, this forecast is based on historical comparison prices, but also takes into account other factors such as the current economic situation or trends in the art market. The estimate is usually given in the form of a price range with an upper and a lower estimated price.

Which factors determine the value of a painting?

In contrast to, for example, used cars, there are no generally applicable lists in the art market for determining the current market value. When estimating pictures and sculptures, however, there are a number of factors that need to be taken into account, which can be used to determine their value. The most important criteria for being able to appreciate a work of art include:

  • Artist,
  • Motif and date of the work,
  • Technology and dimensions,
  • Provenance and exhibition history,
  • the condition of the work of art as well
  • the current supply and demand situation.

On the basis of this information, the experts can usually evaluate their pictures and determine the sales price currently achievable on the market. A detailed overview of the 10 factors influencing the price of works of art can be found here.

Where can you have works of art valued?

There are numerous players in the art market who you can have their pictures and paintings valued by - by Art dealers and Auction houses above Appraiser and independent Art advisor to special Internet platforms. Interest groups, such as the Federal Association of German Galleries and Art Dealers e.V., will be happy to help you and support you in finding suitable contacts. At the end of this article you will also find a list of addresses and contact persons.

What options do you have for estimating?

  • Personal submission and deposit
    In order to determine the value of a painting, you usually bring it directly to the respective provider. They will examine the work of art, research catalogs and catalog raisonnés if necessary, and then provide you with a corresponding estimate. In any case, it is advisable to make an appointment in advance to bring your work of art past.
  • Go to an expert consultation
    Some companies also offer special expert consultations where you can present your work of art directly to the specialists. As a rule, you register in advance for the consultation hour and provide the first information about the work of art. During your appointment, the expert will examine your work more closely and you will usually receive an estimate for your painting immediately.
  • Online estimate
    In addition, some providers offer the option of having your works of art valued online. The possibility of having paintings assessed online has gained significantly in acceptance over the past few years. More and more collectors are using this method to quickly and easily obtain a value indication for their own picture.

What information is required for the estimate?

With online estimates in particular, it is important to provide as much information as possible. The more is known about the work of art, the more precisely the market value can be determined. The most important information includes:

  • Name of the artist
  • Dating of the work
  • Technology as far as known
  • Dimensions of the painting (framed and unframed)
  • Photo of the front and back of the painting

Further information that can be of assistance in the appraisal of paintings and sculptures and that influence their value is:

  • Photos of signature, date and any stickers or notes on the back or underside
  • Photos of possible damage
  • Information on previous owners of the work of art
  • Information on the certificate of authenticity, catalog raisonné or exhibition catalogs

Based on this information, an initial valuation can already take place. If little is known about the work of art, an auction house is often the first point of contact. Auction houses are considered generalists who deal in a wide variety of works and artists and thus have a wide range of knowledge. Art dealers and galleries, on the other hand, are often superior to auction houses due to their specialist knowledge. They can assess the market for their artists more precisely and have personal contacts to relevant collectors. If the artist is known, it often pays to find a specialist dealer.

Special features in the appraisal of art collections

Each art collection tells its own, individual history. The approach to the valuation is often as unique as this story. First of all, the inventory must be viewed and documented. Among other things, this should clarify which works the collection includes, where they are located and which documents are available for the individual objects. After this initial inventory, it must be decided whether parts of the collection should be valued by different specialists or whether a provider will take over the entire valuation.

In contrast to the appraisal of individual works, there is hardly a way to avoid personal contact with the experts when evaluating art collections. In the case of extensive collections in particular, it is common for the expert to come to you, inspect the works of art personally and collect the necessary data on site. Based on this, research can then be carried out and the corresponding appraisal dossiers worked out.

Are the experts liable for misjudgments?

As mentioned earlier, the market price that can be achieved depends on a number of factors, only some of which are directly related to your work of art. The term "estimate" already indicates that it is only a educated guess or a forecast the achievable market price, which is based on a number of assumptions. Since there are no fixed, objective rules for determining the market value of a work of art, the estimate is naturally a matter of discretion. Although this is created to the best of our knowledge and belief, it does not equal any expertise or guarantee and therefore has no legal value. Liability also generally only applies to a court-appointed expert if he has acted with gross negligence or intent.

We analyzed the results of several art auctions in Germany and Austria and examined what the relationship between estimate and hammer price looks like in practice. In fact, only about every third lot (35.6%) was knocked down within its estimate. 24.7% were able to exceed their estimated market value, whereas 39.7% of the auctioned works of art were knocked down below their estimated price or even fell through the auction.

How long does it take to appreciate a work of art?

How much time it takes to have a painting valued actually differs from provider to provider and depends in particular on the information provided and the scope of the research required. Ideally, you will get the estimate for your work of art within less hours. But it can also partly several weeks it takes until the experts can make a well-founded statement about the current market value of their work of art.

Can you have works of art valued for free?

Yes, there are numerous ways to enhance your painting free to be appreciated. However, the saying “If it doesn't cost you anything, you are the product” often also applies to the art market. For many providers, free estimates are by far the most important measure for acquiring new works of art. Therefore, it sometimes happens that the estimates are more like fantasy prices, which are later renegotiated or given a significantly lower limit. Therefore, one should either obtain several estimates or consult an independent art mediator.

Art experts, appraisers and some internet platforms, however, offer independent, but mostly offers chargeable estimates. The prices for this usually range between € 30 and € 300 per work, but can also differ significantly in the case of expensive objects and very time-consuming research.

What do you have to consider in the event of a sale?

However, if you are aiming for a sale, keep in mind that not all providers have the same market knowledge, experience and, above all, the necessary network to sell your painting in the best possible way. While some vendors may underestimate the work of art and thus miss out on a better sales result, an overly high estimate can mean that your work may not find a buyer and lose significantly in value. Our research shows how far the results of the estimates differ:

We asked four established galleries and auction houses from (2x Germany, 1x Austria and 1x England) to appraise an early watercolor by Erich Heckel. Heckel is one of the most important representatives of Expressionism, whose works have often achieved record prices. All four providers regularly deal in comparable works by the artist and have extensive knowledge of the market. All four received exactly the same information to make the estimate. Still, their ratings differ significantly. While provider 1 estimates the work at € 14,000 to € 18,000, provider 4 predicts a possible sales result of € 60,000 to € 80,000.

Our recommendation is therefore to obtain several estimates from auction houses and galleries in any case. Before you make a decision, the opportunities and risks of the various sales options (auction, direct sale, private sale, commission) should also be carefully weighed up. Experience has shown that it is often worthwhile to entrust the sale to a specialist who regularly trades in the artist's works and maintains close contact with the necessary collections.

Addresses and contacts in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

Finally, we have put together a few addresses of galleries and auction houses for you, where you can not only have your paintings valued, but also sculptures, drawings or photography.

Do you have any questions about the valuation of your pictures? Contact us or write a comment, we will be happy to help you.

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Photo: Ricardo Arce via Unsplash