A painting is always worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. However, if you're the seller or buyer, it helps to have an idea of what someone else might pay. Whether it's the painting you picked up at a thrift store, or a work of art you're just curious about, you can determine its value if you're willing to apply a few layers of research and time. If it looks as if you've got something of true value, apply the finishing touch of a professional opinion.
Check the painting for the artist’s signature. Like an autograph on a sports trading card, the signature can boost the credibility and value of the painting. Look for a monogram, initials or a symbol at the bottom or side, or something hidden in the work itself. For example, Jean-Michel Basquiat signed his name with invisible ink within "Orange Sports Figure."
Search art reference books to confirm the painter's identity. A book like "Davenport's Art Reference & Price Guide" has lists of artists, descriptions of their works and signature samples. Libraries carry art reference books. If you can't get to one, try an online artist database, such as Findartinfo.com.
Search auction records for the prices of other paintings by the artist. This could give you a broad idea of its potential value. Recent auction prices may be listed in art reference books or websites like Sotheby's, Christie's and Askart.
Pay an art appraiser for a professional estimate of the painting. This may cost $125 per hour, but it is necessary to set the real value. Organizations like Appraisers Association of America and American Society of Appraisers can help you find an appraiser.
- Ask your regular insurance agency to insure the painting while you do your research. Even a temporary coverage plan can help. You can always increase the coverage later if necessary. You also want to store the painting in a cool, dry place. It could be damaged by direct sunlight.
- Don't attempt to clean, repair or reframe a found painting yourself; always let a professional do that work.