Buying a Painting Online: Make Sure That What You See Is What You Get

1 Feb

Red Hills, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

As I mentioned in an earlier article, Purchasing a Painting over the Internet: Is It Safe? buying original fine artwork online is an increasingly viable and enjoyable way for people to improve the look of their living room walls.

Anyone who has looked up a recipe online knows that there are thousands of choices, and even a five-star rating does not guarantee success (against my better judgment, I once made a banana bread recipe calling for two cups of mashed bananas for one loaf of bread; the result, despite the five-stars, was a thick conglomerate of baked umber ooze more suitable as a doorstop than breakfast).

A painting, however, is more of a monetary investment than failed banana bread, and the prospective collector of an artist’s work wants to ensure that what he is seeing, and has fallen in love with, on the computer screen, looks even better once it is unpacked and hung over the sofa.

The first step toward achieving this satisfaction is using the common sense that I should have used with the banana bread recipe: if something doesn’t seem right — with the work, with the artist, with the website — then don’t blindly plunge ahead thinking that all will come out right in the end. If you have questions, then ask them, and continue asking questions until you are satisfied with the answers.

At Steve Henderson Fine Art, we communicate with studio clients via e-mail and phone, beginning with the initial contact (“I saw this painting I absolutely LOVE on your site,”) and following up with a series of communiques that acquaint us all more firmly with one another. Although Buy Now buttons are appended to studio pieces on the website, we have found that prospective buyers want to engage in conversation about a work first before hitting the button or sending the check, and rightly so.

Al Fresco by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

Many clients want to know the story behind a particular piece — why Steve painted it, where it is located, whether it was painted on site or in the studio. Because Steve uses reference material that he has collected personally — and not from stock photo sites — we are able to supply a personal story for each work, from the historic Hughes House setting for Madonna and Toddler to the quirky race hiker encountered on the 9-mile trek to Hidden Lake. The Fruit Vendor remains my favorite story, a soft-spoken, Colombian market businesswoman who always saved behind the counter a special bunch of  bananas for her regular customers.

The story behind the work is an added bonus, as most people decide on purchasing a painting because it latches onto their psyche and demands to be a part of their lives. What matters is that they own it, and through the years, their own stories are added to its history.

It is important to us, when dealing with clients who are unable to come to the studio and see the work in person, that they have a firm idea of what the painting looks like in real life. An image on a backlit computer screen can look more  — or less — vibrant and colorful than it actually is, and Steve works to mitigate this issue by ensuring, through PhotoShop, that the image posted on the website is as accurate a replica of the original as he can make it. Individual screens vary, however, and what looks one way on one screen looks slightly different on another.

In our communications with clients, we send larger views of the work so that the buyer can zoom in and see the nature of the brushstrokes and the application of paint. If there is a gallery nearby (and with several in the Northwest, one in Arizona, one in Montana, and one in Connecticut, there are options), we encourage the buyer to visit and see Steve’s works in person, to get an idea of his overall style and palette.

On the Horizon, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

Because a painting is an investment — and a personalized one at that — many quality galleries have a policy of allowing the buyer a set period of time, generally two weeks to 30 days, to fully finalize the sale, with the option of returning the painting — unharmed and in its original condition — to the gallery should the buyer decide not to make the purchase.

We also ascribe to this policy, and it is in both our and our clients’ best interest to ensure that everything we can possibly do to educate a client about a work — BEFORE we complete the bill of sale and send the work to the client’s home — is done. To date, we have never yet welcomed back a work from its outward journey, and the general response has been, “It looks even better in real life than it does on the website!”

So, how much can you expect to pay for an original painting by an emerging or mid-career artist — the best, most affordable source of original work for the collector of non-Lear-jet means?

An excellent question, and one that deserves a future column of its own. Stay tuned . . .

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