What is a “Listed artist”?
Listed artist is a term that is thrown around every day at an auction house. One of those terms that we use so often that we begin to forget that everyone doesn’t know it’s meaning. But it isn’t as self-explanatory as it seems, nor as simple as some definitions may lead you to believe.
The popular definition is “a term commonly used by appraisers to describe an artist who is ‘listed’ in standard art reference books,” but the definition has moved beyond that and means more in the auction world. For both auction houses and appraisers, more than knowing the birth and death dates, more than knowing the style that the artist preferred, we are looking for comparables or in the auction world, auction comparables. These “auction comparables” are listings to see how the artist is doing on the secondary auction market. This can most easily be explained using a few examples.
I was asked by a good friend the other day to do some research on the artist Johanna Secor. She shared that a family member had a painting by the artist and knew that she was active in Connecticut.
With that information, I turned to a few online databases. The days of large tomes of artist names are generally over. Most auction houses and fine arts dealers subscribe to websites like AskArt.com, ArtNet.com, ArtPrice.com, or LiveAuctioneers.com.
Though I was able to find general information on the artist including newspaper articles about various shows, the general artist databases yielded no results meaning that this artist has yet to be “listed.” However, there was one auction comparable on LiveAuctioneers. Another oil painting by the same artist sold in 2006 for $300. This single listing is not enough for us to conclude that this artist is a “listed artist.”
While there are the obvious examples like Monet, Van Gogh, or Dali, a “listed artist” may not be widely known. I will use Maxfield Parrish as an example. In looking up the artist, not only do we find that he was an American who lived from 1870-1966, we also find over 277 auction records! For an auction employee or an appraiser, this information is key. Using these auction records, we are able to determine at what level to value the work.
For example, if someone were to bring an oil on board painting by Maxfield Parrish, I would be able to search the auction results on AskArt.com for the other 157 oil paintings to determine a correct valuation or estimate for sale.
I see artwork nearly daily by artists who slipped through the cracks of “listing.” Beautiful 19th century oil paintings by a rural painter who has never been heavily collected and thus no information remains, an artist from the 1960s whose work has yet to filter to the secondary market. Particularly with contemporary artists, they may be listed at a later date when their work has become more mature, established, or desirable.
Remember that having a painting by an an artist who is not “listed” does not negate any creative value that the piece holds.
Are there other terms that auction houses use that confuse or frustrate you? Do you want to have them featured in our next post? Let us know in the comments below!