Online Art Auctions: What to Know

Grace your walls with beautiful art

Woman looking at art for sale hanging on a wall.

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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 well on your way to having the perfect addition to your home delivered to your doorstep.

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.

A screenshot of one of Artsy's online art auctions featuring geometric art.
Artsy's online art auctions.
  • Artsy: Artsy is an online art auction website offering auctions of all types, from contemporary art to fine jewelry. This website is perfect for budgets of all sizes, offering something for everyone. Registration is required in advance to bid.
  • Paddle8: Paddle8 is a unique online art auction website geared towards the 21st-century art collector. They offer art ranging from post-war contemporary to street art and everything in between. Prices vary but tend to be higher end. Registration is required to bid.
  • Invaluable: If you want to purchase art from the likes of Roy Lichtenstein and Salvador Dali, this 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.

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 the piece being sold to have proof of authenticity prior to the auction. This proof comes in many forms including:

  • Invoices
  • Proof of Authenticity Certificate
  • Exhibition Stickers
A photo of three women going over art documents on a tablet.
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If your art is listed in the primary market, you will be the first owner. Request that information is sent proving the authenticity just in case you ever choose to resell your piece. If the art you purchase is in the secondary market, you are not the first owner to purchase. Your art will come with all the necessary paperwork, including historical documents to prove its authenticity.

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

Important: Reputable auction houses will check this information prior to offering the artwork for auction. However, it's important you do your part, too. If the artwork has been subjected to damage, the documentation will show it, not necessarily the photo. Check the reports, check the authentication, and always read the fine print.

Don't Be Scammed

Regardless of what website you use, always do your homework to ensure 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. And just like any online purchase, follow best practices for shopping safely online.

By doing your homework on the website and by verifying the authenticity of your artwork from the start, you can be sure to stay safe from the get-go.

Going Twice: Bidding Tips During the Auction

Online auctions will either happen live or statically online. You'll either 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. For clarification, let's discuss live auctions first.

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The Live Auction

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.

  • Remember your budget: Set a budget beforehand to ensure 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: 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.

The Static Auction

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 like they do on eBay. If you choose to go this route, there are a few things to think about.

  • Check in often: You don't want to place a bid only to then forget about it. You'll want to check in often to raise your bid or see the status of your artwork's sale.
  • Consider your absentee bid: Some websites such as Paddle8 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.
  • Go mobile: Check to see if your auction house has a mobile app you can download. 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.

What Not to Do During an Auction

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

  • Don't bid on the wrong lot: Make sure you are bidding on the correct lot. Art can sometimes appear similar, especially during live auctions online.
  • Don't bid to drive the price: Believe it or not, this does happen. 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.
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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 check-out process and decide on shipping for your artwork.

Oftentimes, the artwork's 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.

Tip: Be sure to check with the auction house to see if they offer shipping insurance. If they don't, consider purchasing it yourself for protection.

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