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8 Tips for Bidding on Art Auctions


Bidding at art auctions can be absolutely thrilling and satisfying! But to the uninitiated, it can be a fairly intimidating and enigmatic experience. The entire affair is a bit of a bloodmatch. The auctioneer jabbers away in tongues. There’s a constant clamour of bidders and “oos” and “ahhs” over high bids. Many veterans of the art industry are present- speculators, enthusiasts, various experts, even artists themselves. All of them will gather in stylish rooms to go to war over the hottest works coming to market. It can be daunting!

To ease your stress, below are eight of the best tips when it comes to bidding at art auctions. Before we begin, I must recommend going to for many of your art auction needs. Many problems can simply be avoided by heading to reputable auction houses and BNO is one of them. Read these tips and you will be well on your way to becoming an art auction expert!

Let’s talk about Provenance

1) Before you bid or buy, SEE THE PROVENANCE FIRST!

This tip might be the most important, yet for some reason I’ve seen this rule broken on numerous occasions. This is how you get burned!

Vendors could claim several things as excuses.

  • “We only offer provenance to winning bidders.”
  • “We’re trying to protect the past owner.”
  • “It won’t be available to view until after the auction.”

These excuses all normally mean one thing: The provenance is suspicious, so they don’t want you to see it.

It’s simple. No provenance. No bid.


2)Non-Valid Forms of Provenance

Non-valid forms of provenance – copies of letters and copies of certifications, unless the originals are at a location where you can visit and inspect them. Paperwork should be hand-signed, hand-stamped or marked by hand in another way.

Also, it doesn’t matter whether it’s hand-typed, electronically printed or transcribed.

3) Signatures

All of the signatures need to be identifiable. There have been tons of scams involving fake signatures. And remember the contact information for everyone who has signed must be someplace on the provenance and verifiable.

Provenance comes in many forms. Here’s a list of possibilities:

  • A signed statement or certificate from an authority or expert
  • Exhibition or gallery sticker
  • A verbal or written statement from the artist
  • Receipts either from the gallery or the artist
  • A recording, film or online video of the artist speaking of his art
  • An appraisal from a serious authority or expert on the artist
  • A list of names of past owners

Great tips about Provenance! Now what about the auction process?

4) Know just what you’re getting

Whenever you see something is right up your alley or would be perfect to add to your collection, you might get that “I must have this now!” feeling.

It’s hard not wanting to make a hasty decision!

You will get the urge to click the “bid now” button or elevate that bid paddle just a wee bit higher.

But I’ll tell you this, a well-researched buy is normally much more satisfying.

5) Check out the small print, ask for more details

A lot of the art you see at public auctions will be available on the secondary market…

This means that at one time it had another owner. This can be good news as credible history could add more worth to an art piece, particularly if the last person who owned it was a respected collector or institution.

Respected auction houses do their homework on the art pieces beforehand, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your own research as well.

In the few cases that the object has been slightly damaged, it’s unlikely it will be visible on a photograph.

6) Take heed to auction rules

When bidding anonymously from an online site, it’s important that you stay patient and respectful.

The auctioneer has to deal with people on the floor as well as on monitors, displaying numerous people bidding from the comfort of their homes.

It’s tough being an auctioneer. It requires skill and otherworldly concentration.

7) Accept possibilities to see fine art


We all know that museums, galleries, exhibits etc all offer great chances to see art. Additionally, there are many contemporary art sales that are ongoing all year. You’d be surprised the many places you can see art outside of traditional galleries.

Before an auction begins, an auction house might show a preview, which will grant you an opportunity to go, view, study and learn about art.

Always be increasing your knowledge.

8) Realize that price quotes are working for you

Making quotes is a challenging process for auction houses.

Factors are constantly changing in the market place. These factors can include its value in the historic landscape, an artist’s declining or rising popularity and a series of other issues that play into the process. Secondary market sales can also influence the price and if the condition has worsened.

Try to surround yourself with people who understand everything in the modern art world. This makes it easier to price works properly.

As far as auction houses pricing quotes, remember that they really are trying their best. They will be as realistic as possible to gain bidders. Pieces that are priced too expensively could deter bidders and keep bidders from returning.

That’s the last thing they want!

Whether you’re a newcomer to art auctions or an experienced veteran, these 8 tips will serve as useful reminders before you make your first bid.


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