Commissions on Paintings Formerly Offered for Sale in a Gallery

I’m putting a couple paintings into a Members Show at our local art gallery. The show will run through March. If my paintings are not sold and I pick them up, am I obliged to pay commission to the gallery if I sell them privately after that? I want to do the right thing.

You pay them commission only if it sells. Good luck with your show!

Depends on where they first saw it. If it was in the gallery, the gallery would like its commission.

The gallery contract should address this topic, but if it doesn’t, here is common practice:

If the gallery sells it during the show, they obviously get a commission.

If someone comes into the gallery later and asks about it, and the gallery refers the client to you, you sell it to the client for the same price it was in the gallery and send the gallery a check for the commission (or take the painting to the gallery and they sell it to the client for you).

If a client contacts you directly and says they saw the painting at the gallery, you still the gallery a commission because without the client seeing it there first, you would not have a sale.

If a client comes to your studio and sees a painting (but did not see it previously at the gallery) you do not owe the gallery any commission on the sale.

IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO SELL YOUR PAINTINGS FROM YOUR STUDIO FOR THE SAME PRICE THEY SELL FOR IN A GALLERY. Why? The gallery will not want to carry your work if they think clients can go to you directly and get a discount, thus cutting them out of a commission.

Think of it this way, selling paintings is work that deserves compensation. If the gallery does the work, they get paid a commission. If you do the work of selling, you get paid that amount. If a painting is worth $500, it is still worth $500 whether you sell it or the gallery sells it. Discounting it because you don’t have to pay a gallery commission devalues your work.


Great explanation, thanks.

Oops. I see a typo in my previous comment. The third paragraph should say “… you still OWE the gallery a commission.” In other words, send them a check.

A related topic is a referral from a gallery. That is when the client likes what they see in the gallery but want to see more of your work and the gallery gives them your contact information. If they buy a different painting, the gallery is entitled to a referral fee for that sale - which is often 1/3 to 1/2 of what a full commission would have been if the gallery sold it.

This gets a little tricky because they might have found your contact info on the internet or picked up your business card somewhere else, so unless the gallery calls and says “I just gave your contact info to Sam Slade and he would like to stop by your studio to look at some more paintings,” you don’t know whether it’s actually a referral.

Whether it’s a referral or an after-the-show sale, the basic question is: “Did the gallery put forth some effort that resulted in the client making a purchase?” If so, it is fair to compensate them for the effort.

Today many artists choose to bypass galleries altogether and just sell via the internet. There’s nothing wrong with that. The artist takes on the marketing and sales responsibilities that a gallery traditionally has done, so the artist gets the money that would traditionally have gone to the gallery commission.

But for those of us who also rely on gallery shows for part of our income, it is important to remember that they have costs like rent, staff salaries, advertising, etc. that must be paid from commissions. If we undercut them by selling our work cheaper behind their backs, they won’t be in business to promote and sell our work.

If you treat your galleries in a professional manner, they are likely to treat you fairly too.

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Very well said @Cynthia_Richardson!

I just had to address this with one of my galleries. The painting was hung in the gallery for a couple of months and I rotated it out for another since it didn’t sell. But a woman familiar with my work at the gallery saw that I had posted it as my Facebook banner and asked if it was for sale. She had not been in the gallery during the time the painting was on display. I had only brought it home last week… anyway, I decided to have her meet me at the gallery so she could look at the frame. Turns out she didn’t like the frame but still wanted the painting. So, we took it out of the frame and glass (it is a pastel painting), discounted by the cost of what I had put into the frame, the gallery got their commission on the discounted price and handled the transaction. I got the frame and glass and my pr ice for the painting and everyone left happy.

I could have worked around the gallery and had this lady meet me at my studio and kept that commission in my pocket, but she is a gallery regular, the gallery has been very good to me, and it is important to maintain that integrity as an honest and scrupulous business person with all involved.

Depends on your contract with the gallery. Contracts can vary widely, so be sure & read it carefully before signing.

Hey e’rybody! I do like to look at the art when I am reading a post from someone. And very often, even though I can and do look them up on DPW to see the art-it would be in your best interest to put your links in your profile.

It’s easy: Your Profile/Preferences on DPW Art Talk

@catek2652 , btw, I really like when you paint glass, and I like your color choices!

Ahhh, thanks Sunny! I really love doing the glass and produce paintings. I’m working on a new one now that I hope to have finished soon.