What Makes Art Valuable?

Posted by Jhan Dudley on

What goes into making art valuable? Why is one work of art more valuable then another? Remember your piece needs to speak to you above all if you are going to hang it in your home. But if you are looking at art as an investment there are things to consider that make art valuable.

Last year, a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting was sold at Sotheby’s for $110.5 million, making it the sixth most expensive artwork ever sold at auction. And one of my personal favourite artists, EJ Hugh's work was in the news for its high auction price. So here are 11 things that make a painting valuable.

1. Authenticity

The first element that sets a cheap painting apart from an expensive one is, of course, its authenticity. A real Van Gogh is always going to be worth more than a copy.


2. Provenance

An artwork’s provenance, the documented history of who it has belonged to, is a huge determining factor in its value. For example, if a painting was once owned by a celebrity, a prominent collector, or perhaps a respected gallery, it will certainly attract higher offers when put on sale.

3. Condition

This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but a painting’s condition is also an important factor. If, for example, an artwork has sun damage or a tear, that will generally adversely affect its price.

4. Historical significance

Does the work in question have significant historical importance? If so, that adds more zeros to the price right away. In some instances, it can make the work priceless. Think of the Mona Lisa, for example. 

5. Popularity of the artist

Likewise, if the artist is super trendy at the moment, his or her work may command a higher price, regardless of whether the work has real staying power. Who the artist is always affects the value of the artwork.

6. Recognition

If the artwork in question exhibits recognizable features of a famous artist, it will be worth more. For example, a Cubist painting by Picasso will typically cost more than one of his early landscapes, because people associate Picasso with Cubism.

7. What's the Backstory?

If an artist has an interesting back story, such as an early death, for example, the price will be affected. This is partly because if he or she produced less work, by virtue of dying young, then supply and demand come into play right away, but also because artist’s lives tend to fascinate the public, so any captivating story will play into the value their work.

8. Particular Medium

Generally speaking, works on canvas will always sell for more than those on paper. Likewise, paintings will sell for more than a sketch or, of course, a print.

9. Color

What... color? That's right. Color also comes into play when determining a painting’s value. Historically, paintings that contain red, for example, always cost more.

10. Subject

Similarly, artworks of certain subjects tend to sell for more than others. For example, paintings of beautiful women tend to be worth more than paintings of men. Sunny landscapes tend to win out over dark ones, as do ships in calm seas over ships in a storm. 


11. ‘Wall power’

Although difficult to quantify in words, an artwork’s ‘wall power’ is perhaps the biggest determining factor making art valuable. Does it shock? Does it inspire awe? Does it just draw you in and you don’t know why? All of this will help the price soar.

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