„How much is my picture?“ – FAQ on heirlooms and flea market finds

Every day, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin receive inquiries about works of art and historical objects. This blog post responds to questions regarding the value and price artworks, and to Inquiries for information about items in the collection, and about issues of provenance.

Text: Katharina Negro & Sven Haase

Inquiries about the value of artworks
The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin cannot provide any price estimates, as museums do not determine prices. The prices for the works of different artists are determined by the galleries representing them, and are calculated according to the size and importance of the work in combination with the “artist factor”, which can fluctuate widely, and includes factors such as the artist’s fame and the demand for their work on the art market. The prices set by the galleries are largely independent of the prices that can be fetched at auctions.
Of course, galleries monitor the prices fetched by their artists’ works at auctions, and auction houses base their appraisals on the availability of comparable works in galleries. However auction prices are always just a reflection of the supply and demand at that moment in time. Auction houses work hard to bring together the right bidders, and a skilful auctioneer and the right atmosphere can often entice buyers to make bids they wouldn’t have otherwise made. Conversely, paintings for which there are few or no interested parties are acquired for significantly less than the listed price, or are passed in.

„Good afternoon, I wanted to ask if this painting might bring some money or not.“

The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin does not acquire many new pieces, but when it does, it is only from galleries, auction houses or private individuals whom it knows and trusts. If you are looking to sell a piece of art or an object, you can contact auction houses, galleries, flea markets or second-hand shops, or auction the object directly on eBay.

Information about artists, artworks and objects
If the artist or object is in one of our collections, it is possible to conduct research on them independently in our online collection, or to contact the respective collection directly. You can find the contact addresses on the homepage of the different collections under the menu item “About us/Point of contact for research and scholarly inquiries”.

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If the object used to be in our collection – as indicated by a label on the back of a work of art, for example – you can contact either the collection in question or the Zentralarchiv of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. The Zentralarchiv contains files, estates and collections on the history of the individual museums, as well as a complete collection of the scholarly literature relevant to their collections published by the Königliche/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin since its foundation in 1830.
Unfortunately, we cannot provide any assistance if the object or artist has never been in one of our collections. In that case, the best option is to search for information online, in catalogues, encyclopaedias, or in libraries.

Provenance inquiries
Provenance refers to the origin of an object and the circumstances surrounding its ownership from the time of its production to the present day. It is important for museums and collectors to know the provenance of their artworks so as to prevent the possession of stolen or unlawfully procured objects. A good example of this are artworks that were stolen from their Jewish owners during the Nazi dictatorship and later ended up on the art market.

„Is this signature known to you? Around 1930 East Germany Landscape / Oil / Forest? Thanks if someone takes the trouble …“

Independent research
It is possible to conduct your own independent research at the Kunstbibliothek at the Kulturforum, the Zentralarchiv of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Archäologischen Zentrum, and on Opac, the online catalogue of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

„Dear Pergamon Museum, I have inherited this little rider from my grandfather and I can not classify him at all.[…]“


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