Online Art Auctions: What to Know

Fill your walls with beautiful art

Empty wall space in your home should be filled with beautiful art to inspire you daily, and thanks to online art auctions, finding the perfect piece of fine art has never been easier. With a little guidance and a lot of browsing, you'll be on your way to having the perfect addition to your home.

Regardless of what online art auction site you use, make sure the website is reputable and the auction isn't a scam. Read the User Agreement and Privacy Policy carefully to check for hidden fees and fine print. Like any online purchase, follow best practices for shopping safely online.

Woman looking at art for sale hanging on a wall.
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Find the Right Auction for You

To get started, you'll want to find an online auction house that has what you're looking for. These auction websites offer many different types of art, from contemporary to modern photography. Take some time to think about what you'd like to see in your home before you begin the search. When you're ready, the websites below offer online art auctions perfect for the first-time user.

Artsy

Artsy is an online art auction website that offers all types of artistic content, from contemporary art to fine jewelry. This website is perfect for budgets of all sizes, offering something for everyone. It even has a mobile app so you can bid for art on the go. Registration is required in advance to bid.

Artsy online art auction site.

Invaluable

If you want to purchase art from the likes of Roy Lichtenstein and Salvador Dali, Invaluable is the art auction website for you. Invaluable lives up to its name when it comes to finding the right art piece for your home. Prices are higher-end, and registration is required to bid.

Invaluable online art auction site

Artnet

Artnet is an international art market where users can buy and sell art. With 24-hour bidding, the platform deals with modern and contemporary paintings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and more. Artnet features instant turnaround and lower commissions, and is accessed by millions of monthly visitors worldwide.

Artnet online auction gallery

These websites are best for getting your feet wet. Other auction houses, such as Sotheby's, hold online art auctions, but they're best for more experienced bidders to navigate and use.

Going Once: Understand What You're Getting

When purchasing art online, it's important to understand what you're getting. Art auction houses require that any piece offered must submit proof of authenticity before the auction. This proof comes in many forms, including invoices, proof of authenticity certificates, and exhibition stickers.

If your art is listed in the primary market, you'll be the first owner. Request authenticity proof in case you ever choose to resell your piece. If the art you purchase is in the secondary market, you're not the first owner. Your art will come with all the necessary paperwork, including historical documents, to prove its authenticity.

This type of paperwork and documentation is called an artwork's provenance. Before you purchase artwork, ask the gallery or auction house for information about the art's provenance to prove the piece's originality.

Reputable auction houses will check authenticity before offering the artwork for auction. However, it's important to do your due diligence. If the artwork has been subjected to damage, the documentation will show it, not necessarily the photo. Check the reports and authentication materials, and always read the fine print.

Going Twice: Bidding Tips During the Auction

Online auctions will either happen live or statically online. You'll be able to bid in real-time or you'll need to enter a one-time bid and monitor the auction during the set time.

A photo of a woman holding a phone and using a computer to bid on an online art auction
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Live Auctions

During a live auction, you and the rest of the bidders will bid online simultaneously, as if you were sitting in the auction house with your paddle. During this type of auction, there are a few key tips to keep in mind.

  • Set a budget beforehand to make sure what you bid for is exactly the piece you want. This will help you reign in your spending versus your emotional response to the art.
  • Bid confidently and don't hesitate. The piece you're interested in could sell before you even think about changing your mind. Set your gaze on the piece you want and bid at the first chance.
  • Keep an open mind. Sometimes, artwork sells for much less than the auctioneer's estimate. If a piece you'd love to have seems to be out of your price range, watch the auction anyway. You could be surprised.

Static Auctions

Not all auction websites offer live auctions. Instead, they offer live and static auctions simultaneously, or a static auction by itself. This means bids come in much as they do on eBay. If you choose to go this route, there are a few things to think about.

  • Don't place a bid and forget about it. Check in often to raise your bid or see the status of your artwork's sale.
  • Some websites allow you to enter an amount higher than the minimum bid to use as an absentee or maximum bid. Once the bids go over that amount, the system will stop bidding for you. If you choose to leave an absentee bid, check back often.
  • Check to see if your auction house has a mobile app. It's the perfect way to keep up with your bids on the go.

The length of each auction will vary depending on the auction house. Typically, the length will depend on the number of lots and the frequency of the bids. Be prepared to spend quite a bit of time online if you choose to stay.

Auction Etiquette

Auction etiquette goes a long way during these often lengthy art auctions. There are things you just shouldn't do, whether the auction is happening live or not.

  • Don't bid on the wrong lot. Make sure you're bidding on the correct lot. Art can sometimes appear similar, especially during live auctions online.
  • Don't bid to drive the price. Be considerate of others and don't bid just to bid.
  • Don't be reckless. Use caution when bidding and remember your budget.
  • Don't give away your highest price at the get-go. You might be able to snag the artwork cheaper than expected.

Sold: What to Expect Next

Congratulations! You've purchased your very first piece of art from an online auction house. Now, what can you expect?

A photo of a woman acting excited behind a computer because she won her first online art auction
Daly and Newton / Getty Images 

Some websites will contact you via email, while others will have a representative from the auction house call you. Either way, you'll move forward with the checkout process and decide on shipping for your artwork.

Often, shipping costs are left up to you. But rest assured, the auction house will work with you to find the best and safest shipping option for you and your art.

Be sure to check with the auction house to see if it offers shipping insurance. If it doesn't, consider purchasing insurance for protection.

Eventually, your artwork will appear on your doorstep, ready for display. Be sure to follow proper artwork hanging guidelines to protect your piece. Finally, consider entering another auction to see what else you can find. Buying art for the first time is a wonderful experience that you'll likely want to have again.