There has always been something of a debate when it comes to choosing between buying in auction or buying from a gallery. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Buying in auction can be fun but it can carry a lot more risk, whereas buying from a gallery should include more safeguards and the pictures bought have the benefit of the owners experience and expertise.
There are also additional costs when buying pictures in auction, these are sometimes not immediately recognised. For example there is always a Buyers Premium to pay on the auction hammer price which very often amounts to 30% if you include VAT and sometimes more when you add A.R.R. Then there are transport costs from the auction house, with more potential costs if the picture needs cleaning, remounting and framing. All these issues can make a picture a lot more expensive than the original hammer price, but they are normally dealt with by the gallery.
When it comes to prices, galleries on balance tend to be a bit more expensive because they have these extra costs and must make a mark up. Auction prices on the other hand can produce very erratic results with some producing prices which are so low that they don’t represent the true value of a picture and sometimes so high that they would eclipse any price tag a gallery would place on it. For example large single owner collections of bird art in recent auctions have achieved prices that galleries could only dream of, so it seems that when there is plenty on offer and the sale is well advertised it brings out the big collectors and the prices can soar.
Because auctions rely on attracting the right buyers at the right time, something they don’t always manage to achieve, we sometimes see pictures fail to sell, or sell on a low estimate. Many of these pictures are often readmitted at a later date, sometimes in a different auction and can end up making several times more than its previous failed price or estimate. The question then becomes which price was the right one?
The point of buying art is to get something that the purchaser considers a fair price. The question then becomes how much should I pay a gallery if the picture in question was bought at a bargain price. It all comes down to the quality of the picture and what someone personally considers its worth. Given that any bargain picture could be readmitted into an auction and make a lot more money on a different day it becomes a decision that only the buyer can make, but remember the best examples always come at a premium.