The short answer: It depends and what you are willing to pay for it.
What should you pay for a painting?
This is part one of a three part series to understand the cost of art. This is for artist and collectors to better understand how art prices are calculated.
“What should a painting cost? Read about the four different methods of how the cost of a painting is calculated. You will gain insight to why paintings cost what they cost and why. You have probably seen a wide scope you prices of paintings. It can be difficult to wrap your head around the prices of contemporary paintings. At the end of the day buying a painting is often a ballpark figure. Where you buy the painting has a lot to do with how the price is structured. Today we are only going to look at the our basic methods to calculate art. Next week we will take elaborate how the place art is being sold impacts the pricing.
An oil painting by Denise van der Burgh with two chickens standing close to a dike.
Without further ado, the four basic calculations used in determining the cost of a painting.
1. Length x Breadth of a painting.
This method is a calculation of price of the surface square space. So you pay per centimeter or inch of the painting. This way all the art is evenly priced based on the size of the art work surface. The price of a specific size of painting will always be the same price. The subject-, time-, or quality of the art is not taken into account.
Example 1: Denise van der Burgh’s oil paintings are always 50cm x 60cm.
That would mean:
L x B = PRICE
60 x 50 = €3.000,00
You pay per square centimeter the same price.
But this option is usually used in the US, where they do not use the metric option.
L in INCHES x B in IINCHES = Price
19.7 INCHES x 23.6 INCHES = €464.92
Two wildly different prices for a painting. And it gets more difficult if you still have to decide a currency, as Euros are wildly different from a Hong Kong Dollar and even US Dollar and the UK Pound.
Example 2: Marko Klomp’s oil paintings are 120cm x 80cm.
That would mean:
L x B = PRICE
120 x 80 = €9.600,00
47.2 x 31.5 = €1.486,00
Summary of method 1
You get two wildly different prices. So this is not a good calculation. €464,92 and €1.4860,00 is too cheap for an oil painting of that size and quality. €3.000,00 and €9.6000,00 is wildly expensive for their current market. That would also mean their prices stays fixed no matter the quality and time the artist have spent on their craft. So let us bring skill and reputation into the equation.
2. (Length + Breadth) x (Reputation or years active)
This calculation is used the most, as it allows a variable that can be changed over the years. However this variable, how does one calculate the validity of the variable? This is where it become tricky. How do you calculate reputation? Is it the number of paintings you have sold? Or the amount of years the artist has been actively painting. But how can you check that? Some artist have not kept a portfolio. As not all artist are trained in art academies, or have had hiatusses. Alternatively reputation can also be used, which is a retrospective number that can be based on past sales at auctions. As you can see, there are a lot of variables to take into account. So let us use years actively painting.
Example 1: Denise van der Burgh’s oil painting. Using 1998 as a starting point. We have paintings froms 1992 from her, but they are not of the same technical quality as her later works.
(L x B) x Years actively painting = PRICE
(50 + 60)years = PRICE
` (110)22 = €2.420
This is the closest in price to what we ask at Gallery Sorelle Sciarone for paintings by Denise van der Burgh. Denise has been actively painting for twenty two years. However, Denise has only been sporadically selling and exhibiting in this time. She paints once a week. She did however complete and Art History degree in this time as well, which adds to her knowledge of art.
Example 2: Marko Klomp’s oil painting
(L x B) x Years actively painting = PRICE
(120 + 80) years = PRICE
` (200)22 = €4.400,00
This price is also the closest to what we ask for art work by Marko Klomp. Marko graduated from art school (St. Joost in Breda) in 1998. Not counting the four years of art academy or years he spent painting as a teenager, he has been a art academy trained artist for 22 years. All twenty two years he has been painting everyday and exhibiting multiple times per year. He has been on tv and has won art prizes.
BONUS Example of Method 2
BONUS Example: Rembrandt Portret van een man met de handen in de zij (1658)
(L + B) x years of his art being active = PRICE
(107,4 + 87) x 388 = 75.427,20
REALITY: it was offered for €34.000.000,00 at the TEFAF in Maastricht in 2011. The actual sale price in 2011 is unknown. But that is 33 million euro more than this price calculation.
So working back from 34.000.000 we can work out his reputation number with this formula
194,4x = 34.000.000,00
x = 174.897
The reputation of Rembrandt is almost 175.000 according to this calculation. Back to contemporary paintings. You can repeat this and change years for paintings sold, but we are not yet at a place where that data is available.
Summary Method 2
This method uses the size of the painting and an external variable to calculate the cost of a painting. As the art world becomes more transparent about the selling of art, this method can be a good way to calculate art on basis of previous sales. This takes into account the market for the painting and the size of the painting into consideration. Another way you can calculate the price of a painting is by treating it like a normal contract job. For forty hours a week per month you calculate your basic income. Or if the artist paints less or more, using those hours.
3. Time and Overhead
Time is the amount of hours spent making a painting. This gets multiplied by an hourly wage. Overhead is all costs involved with making a painting. From canvasses, paint, studio space and marketing.
This one only makes sense if you want to keep it completely utilitarian. No frills, just basic costs. The only problem is, the better you get or the more you make, the lower the costs will be. So you will see high prices in the beginning and the price will lower per painting in time. The quality of the art will in all likeliness increase. Exactly the opposite of basic economy.
Time is easy, if it is tracked, but hourly wage is difficult, as artist do not have a government mandated minimum wage to fall back on. What is this wage based on. Questionable variation number one.
All the other overhead makes up all other questionable variations.Some artist buy ready made paint and canvasses, other artists, make their paint and/or canvasses themselves. Most artist do not paint with just one colour. You can buy paint in bulk, you will use one pigment over multiple paintings. So you have to calculate the cost of averages. No artist I know will measure out the exact amount of paint they will use over one painting and you again have to resort to averages. How much paint do you buy over a month versus how many paintings you make over a month. Which makes this just as complicated mathematical equation as any other. Still the biggest problem is, how do you calculate your average hourly wage?
Example 1: Denise van der Burgh
Denise used to be a lawyer, does she keep her hourly wage from there, does she keep a minimum wage? Does her hourly wage fluctuate with the amount of paintings she sells that year or does she conform to the government set minimum wage? Will she humbly say that art is a passion project and pay herself a very low minimum wage? When an hourly wage is set, you still have a whole lot of other variables. Denise paints four hours every Tuesday, one painting takes three months to complete. There are 4.3 Tuesdays in a month.
Now for physical mayerials that are needed to create a painting. She can make three paintings with the amount of oil paint she has bought in the size she has. But she has bought different paint and colours over the period of months. A basic oil colour set is €33,17, sometimes that lasts 3 paintings, other times six paintings, but she needs to buy white. Or she paints very thin on one painting and very thick on another. Some brushes last a lifetime or a gift. A good canvas of 50cm 60cm size costs €16,31 and a pack of three costs €44,29. She sometimes buys the bulk amount and saves 20% but not always. A basic frame for one of her paintings cost €26,88. Too be honest I am tired of all the variables that pop up. I have not even started delving into time spent on marketing, exhibiting, instagram and gallery interviews. Or even do these costs also include studio space or lessons followed?
(Time x Minimum Hourly Wage in The Netherlands) + (canvas, paint, frame) = PRICE
(((4 hours x 4.3 weeks) x 3months))x10,36) + (16,31 + 11,06 + 44,29) = PRICE
((17,2 x 3) x10,36) + 71,66 = PRICE
(51,6 x 3) + 71,66 = PRICE
154,8 + 71,66 = €226, 46
€226,46 would be the amount Denise's painting would minimally need to sell for, to cover her own costs in making it. The next part includes studio-, marketing-, transportation-, or any other overhead costs. If she is with a gallery, this has a much larger margin than if she does everything herself. All those would also have to be added. Even the time spent on Instagram or on the Etsy shop or transporting her work to galleries or fairs is a variable that can be added to the cost of doing business.
Summary of method 3
It seems like a straightforward option at first, but it has much more variables than all the other options. This administration takes a lot of time and energy apart from the artist creating paintings. If the art is sold through a gallery, the prices would be triple this, as the gallery has a lot of more overhead. Artist might have a studio and a website, a gallery has a website, maybe a gallery premise, attends art fairs and openings. Even though painting and art is a passion business, it is still a business. This method does not take into context market for your art. The prices created by these factors might be severely overcharging or severely undercharging, depending what you factor into costs.
Who can we turn to that will take away all the variables? The last method options is market average prices. It is however good for every artist to know what it actually costs them in time and material to create art. But the same can be said of any business. If you are selling art, you are a business.
4. Market average
Market average prices, is that you set your art on art auction sites and the art sells for the price the buyer wants to pay. For relatively known artist, this will result in good market prices, that are realistic. For famous artist, the costs of art work can reach astounding amounts often seen on front paper newspapers. The prices are astronomical, but that is a very small percentage of the art market. For artist new to the market, this will sometimes result in €6,00 - €200,00 sales. Which is an even worse option than the third method, described above here.
The market average is also seasonally bound. Decembers are bad and you can rather put art work on free market auction sites from February onwards. There are two specific moments in auction spring and fall. This is when Sotheby’s and Christie’s have their annual auctions. When you post art work around this time, the chance of the paintings being sold for more than €200,00 is much better.
However most artist, making paintings, already have a network of people who are more than willing to buy their work for €500,00 if they had to say a price themselves. They may not know it. Putting that art work on an external price, it can also scare the artists own network away from buying that painting. On the other hand, there is no time frame pressure for acquaintances of artist to buy their work and the timer will force people to act or not.
Summary for method 4
Putting art on the free market auction sites, is a good idea for people who want to sell their own art or art they have collected as a means to get the work out there. The payoff however is not that interesting for artist who do not know who buys their paintings, but can be good foundation for market research to see what country or area buys your what type of paintings. For collectors starting out, this is also a good way to only pay what you are willing to pay for the painting. The auction site you use will heavily influence the quality and price of a painting. There are different gatekeepers to being able to buy or sell through Sotheby's, Christie's, Catawiki or a local auction house. The company behind the artist and the location of the sale influences the price of an art work. The influence of location will be delved into in the following part.
There is no industry standard method when it comes to artist or galleries selling art. There are a lot of variables involved in all of these methods. Variables that are difficult to pinpoint exact. Each artist, each painting and even the collector buying a painting will influence the different variables greatly.
Hope this gave you some insight in how the price of paintings can be calculated. Every option has a lot of pro’s as well as cons. The price of a painting is often further complicated by the location of where the sale happens. Buying at an art fair, gallery, artist studio, auction house or village market place has a lot of influence on the price. Next week we will see how these price methods relate to different location contexts. Some methods are perfect for direct painting sales between artists and a collector and other methods are for auctions or galleries.
Lot of love,
who made a lot of tiktok videos
during the math portion of this article
The oil painting "Left Behind IV" by Marko Klomp.