Friday, July 2, 2010

What happens to my paintings when I die?

The grave of George Inness from

I got received that question an e-mail,and I believe I will answer it.

That depends largely on who you are and what sort of a market there is for your work. Usually artists whose work is valuable after their death are the same artists whose work is valuable before their death. People who say you have to die to be recognized are generally off base.There are a few artists who are unknown, often "folk" or naive artists, who are discovered after falling from their perch, but that is rare. So if you want your art to be valued after your death, work to make it valued while you are alive.

You will often hear people say, that artist just died (or looks weak) and you should buy one of their paintings because when they die their work will appreciate in value. That is not usually how it works though. There is often a spike in the value of an artists work upon their death, precisely because of people saying that. However with the artist and their galleries no longer promoting or advertising, the market drops off. Then there is usually a period of time when the artist is either out of fashion or just not available commonly enough to make a market. Then some years later a dealer gets the estate from the distraught heirs (hoping to turn a buck on grandads' art) or a graduate student writes a book or curates a show somewhere of the artists work. If a dealer gets the estate he may work to promote the artists reputation. Then there is a reappraisal, the market reexamines the artist, sometimes their verdict is valuable! and the auction prices go up.

I have been the president of an art association and witnessed many artists trying to leave enormous estates having little or no commercial value to be painstaking preserved and cared for in perpetuity. After an organization gets a couple of tons of this stuff they wise up and realize they can only store so much and become willing to accept only works that have proven value.

Usually an amateur artists paintings are left to their children. The kids hang their favorite up and then store the rest. If they store it in the attic the work should last for generations. If they store it in the cellar the work will often deteriorate.

I will continue with this thread tomorrow.

By the way, I ran into a copy of the big Metcalf book in Belfast Maine for the quite reasonable price or 125.00. It is in the front window of Old Professors Bookshop 99 Main st. 207.338.2006
This is an out of print and hard to find book. It is also the only really good book on Willard Metcalf.


Philip Koch said...

Stape- This is a topic I really need to learn more about but always seem to never get around to (gee, facing one's own demise, can't imagine why I avoid the topic).
What little I have found on the subject of "artist's estate planning" is often just unreadable legalese.

You have known a number of artists who went before us and probably have some useful things to relate.

Mary Bullock said...

Once I asked my husband and oldest son what they would do with my paintings when I die - they both answered in unison "Burn them". I said "Well, I know who I will be leaving my paintings to now - my daughter". Although, on second thought, perhaps I should first ask her the same question - she just might have the same answer as they did!

Mary Byrom said...

Belfast! How the heck did it get up there? I've been looking all over for that book!
Mary, I burned a bunch of mine when I go looking for a specific painting I can't find it any where... I forgot that I burned it. Too funny. They burn really well , better than hard wood.
And leave them to your children...two prize siblings of mine sneaked off with all my mother's paintings so I ended up inheriting some canvas, her brushes and paint....message to me was I needed to paint more!

billspaintingmn said...

I would hope to say the same thing that will happen to my children,(when I die!)
Meaning, if you do your best, or dedicate yourself into raising them, they will adjust and hang in there.
The final judgment,(my opinion) comes down to love & trueth.
The amount of, or lack of is what hangs in the ballence.
Love endures all things! Vanity is chaff, and will blow away.

Karla said...

So, I'm just curious, Who are the living painters today whose paintings have the highest value?

willek said...

Doesn't the IRS have something to say about paintings in an artist's estate? ... A highly regarded artist's estate?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am going to write a very little about that tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sell them, spend the money on shoes and hats.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't know, but there it was. Good little bookstores in Maine.

Stapleton Kearns said...

"Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

Stapleton Kearns said...

The modern guys make the big bucks, nobody who is a traditonal painter comes even close. I guess that Damien Hirst, while not really a painter is the highest paid artist in the world. Jeeff Koons makes big money also some people you never hear about.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will touch on that briefly tonight.

postcardsfromthemainline said...

This is a good beginning I hope you will go into this subject in depth as it is very important.