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Wed Apr 4 2012 22:26:17

An Expert's Top Tips on Oil Paintings for Fun and Profit

By: Julia Wilkinson

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Art: It can be a crazy world, where a shark in a vitrine preserved in formaldehyde (think Damien Hirst) sells for 50,000 pounds.

But the world of oil paintings can be fun and often profitable if you take your time learning about it and follow some basic tips, such as these condensed from a piece by expert Aubrey Dawson, writing for WorthPoint.

- Buy what you like.
Dawson says this is "the golden rule." While what you like and what you can make money on sometimes (and hopefully) will overlap, if you can't sell a certain piece due to a change in the market (or whatever reason), "you'll still own a nice piece that you enjoy hanging on the wall."

- Learn about what's selling by attending auctions.
"Auctions are an excellent place to learn what to buy," says Dawson (who has his own site at He says they will sell a variety of paintings, from as little as $20 up to many thousands. Auction houses "can seem like scary places, but they are free to visit and anyone can look around." He advises buying a catalogue, view the previews, and attend the actual auction. He recommends you "Jot down prices, and note items that seem to be hotly contested. This instantly puts your finger on the pulse of the art market, as you can see up-to-date prices, what's doing well and what isn't."

- Notice trends.
As an example, says Dawson, you might notice after a while "that early 20th century modern art is doing well, whereas dark Victorian oil paintings have less interest and more lots unsold." This enables you to build up a good idea of your local art market. Watch for trends and pay attention to an artist whose pictures seem to be steadily increasing in price.

- Carefully examine before buying.
"If need be, take it off the wall and check the reverse side. Condition is important and there are many things that may slip past the untrained eye. First, ask the auctioneer or seller for a condition report. This should cover any damage, restoration or other problems. Then check it out closely for yourself. Once you have seen and handled many paintings, these will start to become obvious." He says dirty oil paintings often just require a bit of cleaning to restore them to their former glory, and not to  worry too much about frame condition; the important thing is the painting itself.

Tip: the back of the frame (gallery stickers, etc.) may provide some clues as to provenance.

Unsure about any individual artist? Noawadays we are lucky to have web sites such as WorthPoint,, and Invaluable to look up information on artists and art prices.

Sometimes, when I see a piece of art I like at an estate sale, I jot the name of the artist in a small notebook I carry in my purse, and then go home to research it. Then I come back armed the second day with information,...assuming it is still there then!

Tell us about your experiences with buying and selling art. What resources have you found valuable? Did you make any "beginners'' mistakes" that you learned from, and that you can share? Or success stories?

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