You may have heard stories of the long-lost Caravaggio found in a family’s attic or the Velasquez painting that reappeared after nearly 300 years. Maybe you recently inherited a painting from a great aunt, and now you’re wondering if it too could be a long-lost masterpiece worth millions.

It’s unlikely that the grimy painting sitting in your basement is an authentic work by Da Vinci or Van Gogh. However, your great aunt’s painting could still fetch a life-changing sum if it’s rare, painted by a well-known artist, or otherwise valuable.

Here are the primary factors that make art financially valuable.

Find Out What Kind of Painting you Have

If you’re trying to determine the value of your art, the first thing you should do is figure out whether it’s an oil painting, watercolor, or just a print.

The clearest signifier of a genuine oil painting is visible, textured brush strokes. A print may mimic these brush strokes, but if you look closely, you’ll find that the finish is very even rather than textured.

If the painting appears to be a watercolor, you may need to do more detective work to tell whether it’s a true painting or a print. To find out whether you have a genuine watercolor or a print of a painting on your hands, look closely with a magnifying glass. Telltale signs of a watercolor include highlights, gradations, or spots where the artist scratched out the paint. There may even be pencil lines where the artist sketched their subject prior to painting it.

Alternately, you may find that the “painting” is composed of tiny dots. If that’s the case, you almost certainly have an older print rather than an actual painting. However, not all prints have these visible dots. Printing technologies have become more advanced over time, leading to prints that resemble the original paintings even more closely.

If you’re still not sure whether your painting is a genuine watercolor or a print, check with an appraiser. An expert can examine your painting with a trained eye and special tools as needed.

Check the Back of the Painting

Many paintings have labels on the back. These labels generally include the artist’s name, the sellers, the price, and other details about the painting. If the painting is a print, it may have the name of a gallery or museum on the back, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Tate Gallery.

If you can find the artist’s name, check online to see how much other paintings by that artist are worth. You may be able to find the number of prints and the value of the painting online if the artist is well-known.

Chalked or penciled numbers on the back of a painting may indicate that the painting was sold at an auction. If it was previously sold in this way, it’s likely to be worth selling at an auction again.

A label from a gallery or framer may also be helpful information. If you find one of these labels, find out if the gallery or framer still exists and consider asking them to help you learn more about your art.

Prints Can be Valuable Too!

While original paintings fetch the highest prices, a rare or specialty print may still be worth millions in some cases. A print of a painting by a well-known artist is often worth more than a genuine painting by an unknown artist.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine if the print is valuable:

  • Is the print signed? A signature from the artist can make a print far more valuable.
  • Is the print numbered? It may be part of a limited edition of prints.
  • Is it a specialty print, such as a painting of a historical event or political cartoon?
  • Is the subject in high demand? Prints of horses, royalty, flowers, and other subjects may command a higher price than others.

You can learn more about high-demand subjects or whether there are limited editions of the painting by researching online or by talking to an appraiser. Limited edition prints are often particularly valuable.

Don’t assume that an unsigned print isn’t valuable. Signed prints weren’t a common practice before the 1900s, and an unsigned print may still be an authorized reproduction sold by a known artist.

Don’t Forget the Frame

Antique frames may be worth huge sums, depending on age and quality. Even if the painting itself isn’t valuable, the frame you found it in might fetch a good sum.

High-quality antique frames are often extremely heavy, especially if they are ornate. Modern reproductions, which are less valuable, tend to be lighter weight since they’re put together using newer techniques and tools.

A qualified appraiser can help you find out whether the frame is valuable. An 18th-century Spanish colonial frame may be worth thousands, and a gilt Louis XIV frame may be worth tens of thousands.

A Few More Art Value Tips

Whatever you do, don’t tamper with the painting, since doing so with even the best of intentions may devalue it. That means no cleaning, no touch-ups, and no removing the painting from its frame. To avoid possible damage to fragile antiques, ask an appraiser what they recommend to restore or maintain the painting.

When in Doubt, Find an Appraiser

Fruitcocktail offers art appraisal, estate sale assistance, and other appraisal services to clients from around the Pacific Northwest. With over 20 years of experience and accreditation from the International Society of Appraisers, we guarantee we’ll meet every requirement to help you accurately determine the value of your art.

Schedule an Art Appraisal Consultation