Many of us have at one time or another inherited an heirloom painting or some other piece of artwork that we do not quite know what to do with. A painting may be lovely and carry a great deal of sentimental value, but that is not an indicator of its monetary worth if you are hoping to sell it. Whether the painting is signed or not, large or small, there are ways of figuring out what it might go for in a sale.
Look up a local or international art auction house or fine art appraiser using the Internet or telephone directory. For example, Sotheby's and Christie's are internationally respected auction houses, but they may or may not have offices located within driving distance of your home. Ask for a referral from a friend or colleague and read any reviews to make sure that the appraiser is reputable and honest. Write down the contact information for this auctioneer or appraiser.
Contact the auctioneer or appraiser by telephone or email. In your email or phone conversation, supply all the information you have on the painting (artist, date, etc.), and any specific information or materials that the auctioneer or appraiser requires. For example, some auctioneers ask for slides or electronic pictures of the work as well as details about its past and acquisition.
Ascertain from the appraiser's response whether or not they need to see the painting in person to provide a worth estimate. If they do, make an appointment to have the painting looked at by the appraiser. If your painting is by an artist with whom they are unfamiliar or from a period or style outside their expertise, ask the appraiser to suggest another company or individual who might be able to help you. Contact this company or individual and repeat Step 2. Ask the appraiser for a written, signed declaration of the painting's worth.
Ask for a second opinion from a different appraiser after you receive your initial estimate. Ask this appraiser also for a written, signed declaration of the painting's worth. Compare the two estimates.
Store the written estimates in a safe or locked drawer where you would keep important documents. They will come in handy if you decide you want to sell the painting at a later date.
If you decide to sell the painting, do some research to find out what the best venue would be for that particular type of work. For example, sometimes galleries will purchase work by a particular artist, while it might be better to sell certain works through an auction.