Buying art at auction is terribly fun. I highly recommend it to anyone. The key is to know your limit and perhaps have a friend, confidant, to keep you in line from overbidding. 


To begin you should research the auction first, which is very easy to do, as all the information available on line. If you have the luxury to preview the auction, highly suggest you take the opportunity to preview in person. More than once, I intended to bid on one lot, but after the in person preview, changed to a different lot.

The provenance and condition of a piece will be listed within the lot. Exceptional notations would be the inclusion in a museum exhibition or from a prominent collection. It’s not unusual these days for the art to come directly from the artist’s studio to the auction floor.

The condition report is important. The general condition of a work will be noted. Typically for a work on paper or photograph, anything framed behind glass, it is best that the piece has been examined outside the frame. For greater detail on the condition of a piece, simply contact the auction house by email or telephone. They are always very responsive, just be mindful as the auction sale approaches, the auction house will be busy.

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Bidding – the art will be listed with a range of expected price. Typically, the starting bid is allowed to start at half the price for the expected price. Depending on the price, the bidding will move quickly in increments of a hundred or more. You can submit a silent bid in advance of the sale, which the auction house will include during the lot sale, but it is a fixed bid, so you do not have the opportunity to continue bidding. This a good method, if you know you want a particular piece, but will not be heart broken if you do not win the piece.  

Telephone and online bidding offer real time bidding if you unable to attend the auction in person. As the sale gets closer to the lot you plan to bid on, you pre-register prior to the sale typically a minimum of 24 hours. For telephone bidding, an employee at the auction house will call you a few minutes before your lot comes up. You can hear the auction and the activity in the room on the phone. You just communicate directly with auction employee, who will yell your bid aloud. It’s up to you when to stop bidding (hence the suggestion of a friend in the room).

If you won the bid (congrats!), then it’s time to pay. The auction house will invoice you immediately including their commission, which is 20 to 25 %, depending on the auction house. There is a gradation, as the prices increase, but this is bidding 101, so let’s not start there.


The following day, the auction house will contact you to arrange shipping. You can pick the art up yourself arrange your own art transport, or utilize their network of art transportation specialists.

Keep a copy of the auction catalog and your invoice from the auction house. It is important to retain a copy of the catalog and invoice, if you ever decide to sell the work later. 

Happy bidding!