How to buy high-quality paintings for a small price.

How to buy high-quality paintings for a small price.

etude pour la glorification des arts
Frederick Bonnaud

Frederick Bonnaud Woman reading at Beaulieu-sur-Mer

The current issue of Aladin (July 2015, no. 321), a French magazine for antique bargain hunters, has devoted its column Enquête to an excellent article on “Paintings under 5000 .” In it the journalist Daniel Cagnolati states, “For the bargain hunter there are thousands of paintings out there for less than 5000 €, even under 1000 €. Forgotten artists’ works or decorative paintings can surface and rise in value…” I, along with some fellow experts, have compiled some tips on how to buy smart in any situation. Here are some examples:

A small price tag doesn’t necessarily mean a bargain.

“(…) When buying a painting under 5000 € you have to be selective if your money is to be well spent. Buy what you like, search out recognized artists, take into account the condition of the painting (you don’t want a canvas that has been relined for example), its subject and its provenance.”  It is vital to consider these guidelines and resist the temptation of falling for a ‘small price tag’, not least when it comes to say a nineteenth-century painting; today one of poor quality is almost impossible to sell, no matter what the price.

Acquiring works from the contents of an artist’s workshop is a good way to reduce risk; this means they will be referenced and issued a provenance. In fact, “today what makes an artist saleable is a well-documented background, like an exhibition history, press articles” or further still the ability to locate the work in a specific artistic context.

It can also be affordable to indulge in “paintings by regional artists, or those with a specific theme like a marine or mountain scene” as these works tend to hold their value over time. Indeed, this domain is still sought-after by collectors who are drawn to their respective regions. Brittany is one region that comes to mind, with its host of undisputedly talented artists like Mathurin Méheut (1882-1952), Ernest Guérin (1887-1952) or Lucien Simon (1901-1987). Well-established, these artists have weathered fashion trends and will always be in demand either locally or internationally, like the Barbizon painters, who still sell well in certain American galleries, though their prices are significantly higher; here it is best to gear one’s budget towards the purchase of a plein-air study or better still a drawing done from nature.


Louis Cylkow (1877-1934) Ocean Sky

etude pour la glorification des arts

Gabriel Ferrier (1847-1914) Study for The Glorification of the Arts

It is still possible therefore to acquire a fine nineteenth-century painting for less than 5000 €, and that without disregarding works of charm, the decorative value of which will always occupy a special place in our homes. Here again quality is foremost as in the timeless beauty of a subject like Woman Reading at Beaulieu-sur-Mer by Frédérick Bonnaud or the pure poetry of the Ocean Sky by Louis Cylkow (1877-1934), an artist of Polish origin who worked at Pont-Aven. Academic painting is still a safe bet as long as a decorative theme is chosen over a historical one, which, because of its stern quality does not coincide with the new aesthetic tendencies of the 21st century.

Take Gabriel Ferrier (1847-1914) for example. Known for his innate sense of compositional harmony and skilful draftsmanship, he remains an artist of reference whose works can still be acquired at an affordable price, like this figure study for the project of a ceiling décor for the French Embassy in Berlin, today destroyed, representing The Glorification of the Arts.