Getting Into Online Art Auctions

It’s been about 19 months since I removed two paintings from my walls in order to sell them to contribute towards my mother’s memory care. Painted by my grandfather, they had been in my possession for almost 30 years.

This was only part of a larger plan. Our family knew that something must be done with the eight or nine paintings my mother still owned and could no longer keep.

I felt strongly that these paintings should return to their birthplace, up north in Cleveland, where William C. Grauer was well-known and well-respected. We would sell them through an art gallery located within the epicenter of his creative world and from there, they could travel anywhere.

So, my sister and her husband packed up the paintings, added a few they owned, and drove them 1000 miles north to an art gallery in Cleveland. It wasn’t any art gallery; it was the one our mother used to sell her dad’s work when he died. We trusted the owner.

Instead of a large exhibit like mom helped oversee 30-plus years ago, the owner told us they would place the paintings into their online auctions. These auctions have grown exponentially over the last 15-20 years. It makes sense as they expand the market of potential buyers from local to international and the buyer doesn’t have to leave the living room couch. The world of selling art has changed.

 The owner carefully catalogued every piece, giving my sister a written copy of the inventory. The owner then had her sign a contract outlining the percentages the gallery would take:

“The Consignor (our family) grants the Gallery a commission, based on the hammer price per lot auctioned, of

$25. USD for items selling $0-$125.00

20% for items selling $126.00-1,000.00

15% for items selling $ 1,001.00- 5,000.00

10% for items selling $ 5,001.00- and above”

They would also charge us a 1% fee of the successful bid price, or the low estimate if the piece cannot sell, for insurance coverage.

She also explained that it is best to sell only two or three paintings at a time. If they swamp the market with a single artist’s work, the value would most likely go down.

We agreed to give her five years to spread out the sales and included that in the contract as well. Last, we agreed to wait 30 days from the sale to receive the payment.

A Few More Selling Facts

Once a gallery selects your painting(s) from its inventory which fits the auction “theme”, an e-mail is sent to the seller, providing the date of the auction and the estimated appraisal of the piece (s) being sold. This is the starting bid price.

They are assigned “lot” numbers, and photos and details about each piece appear on the gallery’s website as a preview approximately two weeks before the auction goes live. One can freely browse the site but if they want to place an advance bid, registration is required. This includes providing a name, email address and credit card. A buyer will also need to register if they plan on bidding live.

Watching an online auction is fascinating. The first time, I was naïve and expected to watch a video of a human bid caller standing behind a podium, banging the gavel and yelling, “Sold!”

No, the entire process is automated. The first item up for sale is highlighted and a side screen appears, showing the asking price. There is a large Bid button below the item on display. It becomes highlighted when the registration is complete and they have approved the card for use.

Bids flow onto the side screen in quick succession, bumping the previous bids out of view. When the bidding finally slows, a yellow box reads “Fair Warning” three times. If there are no further bids, it is sold to bidder #45 or #204, etc. No names are publicly shared. The software program moves onto the next item and so on. (I was lucky to find a live auction underway. Here’s a screenshot):

If there are no bids, some galleries will lower the opening bid, others will not. The program allows maybe 20 seconds for a bid to appear, otherwise it reads “Lot Passed” and moves on. Most online auctions have approximately 100-400 items to sell in a single day.

Most galleries (including the famed Sotheby’s and Christie’s) partner with the site to sell under many of their categories, including Luxury/Collector art, Jewelry, Coins, Antiques and Memorabilia. Our art gallery works with the company too, so I’ve been able to watch her auctions on the Live Auctioneers site (for whatever reason, the art gallery’s site does not include the active bidding, just the final winning price.)

 Live Auctioneers arrived in 2002 and they are the top auction platform offering high-level bid management and a global customer base to galleries around the world. It lists dozens of rave reviews from art gallery owners on the site.

Given that I now had some empty wall space, I decided to “follow” a few (reasonably priced) artists on the site. Once a specific artist’s work (or a specific coin or type of diamond ring) is scheduled for auction, I receive an alert. For me, I not only have exposure to many styles of art for purchase, it is also a terrific way to follow my grandfather’s paintings when they are placed on the market.

Buying Art Online

This leads me to the buyer’s side of the process. I referenced how a buyer needs to register. They may choose to place a bid at their highest comfort level in advance and hope they receive a “Congratulations” alert. Or, the potential buyer can watch the bidding live and make quick decisions on whether to raise a bid.

It is important to note that a “winning” bid is not the final total. It is standard practice for the art gallery to add on a “Buyer’s Premium.” This is a percentage, ranging from 19%-28%, that the buyer will need to pay on top of the purchase. If the winning bid is $250.00, a 23% premium would add $57.50 to the total. The buyer is also responsible for shipping costs. Of course, shipping a coin is more economical than safely packaging and shipping a 25” by 40” framed painting. Realistically, that cost could add $200.00 or more to the final price.

Interestingly, there are “deals.” There are several auctions a month held by the Seized Assets Auctioneers, or SAA. They use the Live Auctioneers platform too. Given its nature, they must work with law enforcement to have access to the items. Typically, every item starts at a $1.00 bid.

We are 17 months into our relationship with the Cleveland art gallery. We receive our payments quickly and she has moved through most of the painting collection. However, there are a hundred small watercolors and a few other random items we gave her to sell.

I continue to be on a treasure hunt to find a piece (s) of art I will enjoy seeing on my walls. I came close twice, but was outbid. One day, I fell asleep and missed the bidding on a serigraph I liked. The journey alone has been fun.

 I don’t regret selling. The money helped and somehow, I always felt like I was only a guardian to these works of art anyway; that they were never supposed to be with me forever. Honestly, I feel like my family did something to help his legacy. The scale of exposure on a global site is unparalleled.

I grew up with my grandfather’s art surrounding me, and that remains true today. I didn’t give everything away, I have several small watercolors and a particular painting he gave me when I was young. He will always be near me.

Here are a few Grauer paintings I grew up around and recently sold:


  1. Wow! Your post feels like a tutorial to online art auctioneering. And you and other family members have gone to great pains to honor your grandfather’s art. It is impressive that your “sister and her husband packed up the paintings, added a few they owned, and drove them 1000 miles north to an art gallery in Cleveland.” You too have put in the hours with this tedious project.

    The art is wonderful. I see overtones of Picasso and Matisse in the paintings, contour and line images.

    Years ago, I wanted to see if I could sell an item on eBay. The valences on my LR and DR windows had become too pretentious for me though I paid a lot of money to have them custom-made. Anyway, I advertised on eBay with photos and a write-up. One valence caught the eye of a buyer in New Jersey. I remember how cumbersome it was to pack up and send the item. I wouldn’t do it again. Your family is doing a great job of honoring your forebears! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww, that’s very sweet about our family honoring my grandfather and that you love his work. Thank you, Marian. ♥ I think we’re just carrying the tradition from my grandmother, through my mother and now us. 🙂 Boy, shipping a valance would be tough!!!! You recognize the challenges, haha. Yes, I did actually want to add as many details about the world of auctioning art as possible. I like to do “research” pieces once in a while. I’m putting on my “reporter’s hat.” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I found this post fascinating, Melanie. I had no idea of how any of this worked, and now I have a pretty good grasp. Setting a monetary value for a piece of art would be hard. I can see how a seller could easily be overjoyed or disappointed. I know little about art, but I’m always amazed at what prices things are set for. (Both high and low.) There’ve been times I’ve been shocked at the price tag on some pieces. I walk around thinking, “What am I missing?” That’s why the online auction idea sounds a bit more appealing. Value is what someone is willing to pay. I imagine it can be pretty humbling for a seller if nobody bids on one of their pieces.

    Incidentally, I really like the new profile picture. You look so healthy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you liked the post Pete, thanks. You hit the nail on the head – value is what someone is willing to pay. It holds true from art, or stocks, to real estate. Art is so subjective too, so that is particularly fickle. That’s why we needed an expert appraiser. We trust her knowledge. It was fun watching one of the paintings take off in a small bidding war. It was gratifying. (And I totally agree with you that sometimes I see a canvas painted with little or no images and ask “what am I missing?” :)). I get it. And thanks for your kind words on my new photo. It was time to update because my hair has gotten so long, haha. And I am doing great!! Had a clean scan not too long ago. Have a great weekend Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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