The Impact That The Physical Condition Of An Artwork Has On Its Financial Value

Detail in raking light. Image © and Courtesy Lowy.

Detail in raking light. Image © and Courtesy Lowy.

As an art collector you may know that it is prudent to conduct price research before you buy a painting or sculpture. Alternatively, you can work with an art advisor who can do the research for you. This is particularly poignant when you are spending a lot of money. 

Price databases such as are helpful tools for art lovers trying to make an informed purchase decision. The numbers, however, don’t always tell the entire story. The physical condition of an artwork, and how it affects the work’s financial value, is often overlooked.

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Inherent Condition Issues

It seems obvious that a tear through a painting’s canvas will cause the painting to decrease in value and that the amount of the decrease depends on the size and location of the tear and how well it can be restored.

But there are other conservation issues that come up in art. They are related to the materials that the artist used: inherent condition issues. Although every era of art has its own conservation issues, they are generally more impactful in certain Post-War and contemporary works than for example in Old Masters, where restorations are generally considered part of the history of the artwork.


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Minimalism And Hard Edge Painting

The work of John McLaughlin (1898-1976), a proponent of Minimalism and Hard Edge painting, is an example. Because his paintings’ surfaces are supposed to be smooth, a cupped or tented canvas has a disproportionately large effect on the visual appearance of the work.

Additionally, in contemporary art it is increasingly common for artists to use combinations of unusual materials of which the chemical proportions are not yet understood. This means that conservators cannot predict today how these materials will interact with each other over the next 100 years.

As an art collector you can mitigate these risks by making sure you do your due diligence before purchasing an artwork. Ask your conservator to point out red flags in the condition of the work you’d like to acquire. Get their opinion on whether these conservation issues are likely to have an effect on the value of the artwork, now or in the future. 

Having a team of experts available to guide you in your collecting decisions is invaluable to making smart acquisition decisions.