Personal Finance: For art’s sake, go online

In fact, it could easily have been more: Blake is widely recognised as one of the founding fathers of Pop Art – but it only took two minutes for Harry to negotiate the price down by Pounds 100.

And he didn’t even have to move from his desk at work. All Harry needed to do was log on to, one of more than a couple of dozen websites selling paintings, prints, sculptures and art installations. If he doesn’t like his Blake, he can obtain a full refund by returning it within 14 days.

Best of all, he may have found a bargain. By going online, Harry cut the normally huge dealers’ commissions, normally of 50 to 60%, to just 40% or so. Nor is his story unusual.v Despite almost-gleeful predictions of the imminent demise of dotcom companies, online art galleries are booming.

The best sites are selling up to 200 works of art to tens of thousands of online visitors every month, putting to shame many of their more upmarket (and toffee-nosed) offline rivals, where viewing a painting is like going to church – but infinitely more expensive.

Choice is almost infinite. It ranges from a Picasso linocut, priced at $2,000 from; a signed screen print by Jamie Reid, who created the now-famous ‘God Save the Queen’ poster for the Sex Pistols (Pounds 360 to you, squire, from; to a choice of oils by Anthony Whishaw RA whose works are in the Tate Gallery, a snip at Pounds 23,990 from

Giles Howard, founder and director at, explains: ‘If you go online, you will be able to view thousands of works from hundreds of artists. In our case you can also search by price, by subject, by medium, by artist, even by size.’

Other websites, including LondonArt and Cartoongallery, a specialist site selling cartoonists’ works also allow similar searches, including subject area and price. LondonArt has almost 3,000 works of art on its website, while Cartoongallery displays hundreds of cartoons by 18 major artists.

One argument sometimes levelled against online art sites is that the works available through them are somehow inferior – and so are the people who buy it. Or a least, inexperienced in the finer points of art criticism and of how to put a value on a work of art.

But Paul Wynter at LondonArt argues that far from potential art lovers being at risk of buying something unsuitable or too expensive if they go online, the reverse is more likely to be true: ‘We are widening the market beyond the traditional buyer. We offer a far greater choice. Ultimately, art should be for everyone and offer a variety of choice. As for price, we are quite pragmatic and offer the opportunity to search for works of art by the amount people are willing to pay.’

Wynter and Giles Howard, at Britart, refute suggestions that people may be paying over the odds for works of art bought online. ‘If anything, the reverse applies,’ says Howard. ‘We talk to the artist and agree a fair price for something we then offer on the site. The price has to be realistic and in line with what a person might pay if they walked into any normal gallery, or we wouldn’t be competitive.

‘If you like that work of art you can make an offer for it, even one below the stated price. We then contact the artist and ask whether he or she is prepared to consider it. Usually, the artist is happy to negotiate and we will call you to reach a compromise.’

LondonArt offers exactly the same approach and discounts of 10, sometimes even 20% are not unusual.

Both galleries suggest buyers gain in two main ways: first, potential buyers find it much easier to bargain online and over the phone than in the more rarefied atmosphere of a gallery. Second, online galleries only charge 35-40% commission on the works they sell, compared to between 50 and 70% through a dealer.

Ultimately, for a serious art investor the big issue is not so much one of finding a work of art which blends in nicely with one’s minimalist home interior, but of how to identify a future Picasso, Matisse or Hockney.

Dealers, online or not, tend to be coy about this, but when pressed suggest buyers look out for some or all of the following:

  • Education: if they went to art school they are probably serious about what they are doing.
  • Age: youth has its virtues. But generally speaking, the older the better. If someone has been operating in the milieu for a few years, it suggests longevity.
  • Solo and group exhibitions: the more the better. Solo is usually best.
  • Collections: the more famous people and corporate bodies who own works by the artist in question the better. When Charles Saatchi started collecting Brit Art, he instantly pushed up the price of the artists he favoured.
  • Commissions: don’t turn up your nose at artists who have spent the past six months painting the foyer of a City bank’s new headquarters.

Even Diego Rivera took a commission from Nelson Rockefeller to paint a mural in New York.

Of course, if 10 or 20 years down the line the artist whose picture you bought online fails to become the next Andy Warhol, you can always go back to plan a: keep it on the wall and admire it.

For modern art, pictures, installations – and a signed version of that famous print of the Queen with a safety pin through her nose.
A wide variety of art, from a few hundred pounds to Pounds 25,000. Wears its ‘democratic accessibility’ credentials proudly.
All the UK’s best cartoonists, from £55 to a few hundred pounds. Search by subject area, including business and finance.
Victorian pastels, sculptures, Picasso linocuts and masses more art for sale on this US site.
Company offering works of art from both new and emerging artists desperate to flog you their wonderful stuff.

  • Nic Cicutti is head of content at

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