Exchanging Artwork for Customers

Someone recently purchased a small oil painting of mine as a gift for someone. The art sale was a clearance sale for local artists, so artwork was priced very minimally. Several of my artworks were sold.
Today I received a request from someone who received one of my paintings as a gift asking if they might exchange their painting for another.
If I allow this I will have to reveal the fact that the work was sold at a discounted price and that it was understood that no returns or exchanges were allowed.
It places me in an awkward position to say the least.
I can understand if someone purchases artwork online and then isn’t satisfied with the work and requests a refund. That happens if artwork is misrepresented. This however is a different matter.
Any suggestions on how or if I should respond to this request? Thanks!!

How did you find out it is indeed one of the works sold that night? did the receiver tell you the work? Anyway, I would be fine with saying “I’m sorry, this work was a final sale, part of a ____ night.” (local artists gathering whatever night. :smiley:)

But how about offering them the amount in a gift certificate toward another piece? That’s not quite the same thing…you would be offering to work with him/her. Nothing wrong with exchanging the same value, is there? I wouldn’t be at all worried about ruining buyer’s rep for purchasing an inexpensive item. The recipient had no problem coming to you for an exchange! So all’s fair in love and art!

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Thanks for your reply Sunny! I know it was one of the works I sold at the clearance sale because no other sale this past year was purchased as a gift. At least I’m almost certain of that. So if I am correct about this I know the work was sold at a very minimal cost. I guess one option would be to choose some other paintings out of what didn’t sell at the sale that she could look through. That will take time and effort and if in the end she doesn’t like anything I will have to give her a refund, which I don’t want to do in this case. I would rather have her just tell her gifter that she doesn’t want the artwork and let them figure it out. Whoever gave the gift must’ve admired it or they would not have purchased it. I guess I will give it some more thought. Thanks for your help!

I like Sunny’s idea to offer the value of the painting (which they need to return & pay postage on) in a certificate they can use towards another painting. I would explain that the painting was purchased from a special promotion you did for the holiday season, and that the promotion is now over. It will appear that you are trying to work with them rather than simply saying no. I wouldn’t worry about losing a potential customer, or feel you are in an awkward position. It’s just a business deal. My guess is the person will say “never mind” and if they don’t, they can simply apply their certificate towards anything you have available on your website.

Yup, Nan said it better! That’s what I was trying to say. :blush:

Thanks for the reply. If this does turn out to be a piece that was sold from a gallery, there will be the issue of commission as well. I guess an equal exchange is the only way to handle it in this case. The more I think about it the more complex it becomes!

I’m kind of in the old school in which it would be considered extremely bad form for a person to even ask an artist to exchange something received as a gift. I’m inclined to advise you to tell the person the truth and not create a situation in which you be asked to something similar next year.


Thanks Catherine. I was hoping someone would say this. It is my thought exactly. I am trying not to allow my ego to rule here but it’s always easy to be insulted when our artwork is rejected. I understand with my more enlightened self that her rejection has nothing to do with the quality or value of my work. I think it is more about her than me. You hit the nail on the head. I’m sure by now she is rethinking her request, or at least that is what I would like to think. I’m always amazed, and really shouldn’t be, at how uneducated and insensitive some people are about artwork. I guess people just like what they like. There is a lesson in this for all of us who are artists and attempting to sell artwork. I think it’s important to have a disclaimer sign on your write up at art sales and on our websites explaining what will will and will not do when it comes to the sale, exchange or return of the artwork. I will be more careful in the future. Thanks again!

Well said. Making it clear ahead of time prevents misunderstanding and issues later. Thanks Valerie for a very interesting post & read.

Thank you Nan! I hesitated to post this but now I think it was good to share. Thanks for the support.

Since you are running a business, you shouldn’t feel awkward about setting and following rules. My suggestion would be to offer the buyer a credit toward another painting of greater value (i.e., your regular price).

Thanks John. A credit is actually a good idea because then I get the artwork returned and make a profit if they buy something else at full price. I will give that some thought and consider putting the in a disclaimer at future sales. If it was a painting that was sold at minimal cost, I will have to be honest about that even if it reveals the gifter’s private info. Also, as I mention earlier, if the sale was from a gallery and the gallery kept 30% commission, The gallery keeps the commission and I can only give them the amount I received. Complicated…

I’m glad you posted this. Indirectly I learned a lot on how to handle a client with grace but set personal boundaries at the same time. Let us know how it all works out.

if they bought it from a gallery, is there a reason not to direct them to return it to the gallery? It lets them know of the complication without revealing the cost.

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Glad you gained some insight Mary Ellen. I still haven’t decided if I should do something. All of my options are complex. Perhaps I will let it pass and see if she contacts me again. If she does I may consider offering a credit towards another work. But, the commission remains with the gallery…so she only gets a percentage of the actual cost. I spoke with someone yesterday who purchased a woven scarf at a local artisan fair. She gave it to her son as a gift for xmass and he didnt like the colors…so she wants to go back to the artist and ask to exchange it. There was no commission involved, so that should be ok. A painting is more complicated because of commission. I’m working on my disclaimer for my website and for future gallery sales. Thanks

I didn’t realize this was a gallery purchased piece. So I ask the same question as Cathleen - why aren’t they contacting the gallery for a return? If the buyer had bought direct from you, then I could understand them contacting you. But in this instance, I think they need to go back to where they purchased it, no? My guess is the gallery has no returns on their sales, and therefore the new owner tracked down the artist to try & exchange it (or get a refund of the money spent). And that does put the artist in an awkward spot! Have you spoken to the gallery to see what their opinion is on this?

Yes, Nan, this was sold to someone from one of my galleries or places of sale over the holidays. So that means commission was given to the seller. If they contacted the gallery I’m sure they were advised to contact the artist, but how the issue of commission is handled is interesting. If I were to offer a swap, it would have to be of equal or greater value because I lose the commission given. I guess the gallery keeps it. So the gallery wins and the buyer loses in the end. I don’t think galleries offer swaps or returns.

The person who was given your artwork as a gift is not your customer, therefore you do not owe them anything. Gift certificate sounds good, so does the disclaimer.

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Even if the artwork isn’t on sale, if it’s on commission at a gallery, the exchange value for the artist will still be less.

Thanks Theresa! I received lots of help on this post. All helpful. Good point about the gift .