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New to Old Masters

While some Old Master collectors grew up surrounded by the riches of the Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo, many others discover their passion for old European paintings later in life. If you are new to this field of collecting, let us help you get oriented.
art market 101

Who are the ‘Old Masters’?

By convention of the global art market and museum world, ‘Old Masters’ generally describes paintings or drawings produced in Europe between 1200 and 1850, with some variation in the precise cut-off dates. The term tends not to describe the so-called ‘decorative arts’ (sculpture, objects, furniture, porcelain, etc.), though often the two are collected and exhibited together as you can see at the Frick Collection in New York or the Wallace Collection in London.

There are many important collectors of Old Master paintings who also venture into contemporary, impressionist and modern art. The Frankfurt-born leather mogul Robert von Hirsch (1883-1977), for instance, started collecting Modern and Impressionism at the age of 24 and expanded to include Old Masters in his 40s; paintings formerly in his collection – counting among them Cranach’s Judgement of Paris (Kunstmuseum, Basel) and Giovanni di Paolo’s Branchini Madonna (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena) – are dispersed across museums worldwide. Today in New York, one can visit the Hill Art Foundation in Chelsea, which began as a private institution that focused on their Post-War collection and now expanded to include European bronzes and old master paintings more recently acquired by the founder.

tips on buying

Your first Old Master painting

Step 01

Decide what you like

The most important criterion is deciding what you like, be it subject-matter or period. Art collecting is, after all, an added pleasure in life so we think it’s important to follow your instincts. You may be drawn to portraits or a sensual mythological scenes – or perhaps you prefer something non-figural; these are good starting points. Our Discover section could prompt some ideas. Once you have narrowed down the parameters of your collecting interest, the search will be much easier.

A woman attentively looks at a painting by Pietro Novelli during the exhibition Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art in 2018
Step 02

Get market savvy and fix a budget

Looking for a Rembrandt Self-Portrait with a $100,000 budget? It’s time to do some market research and get realistic. There are in fact countless opportunities to acquire well-painted, authentic Old Master paintings at every price point; even with a budget of $100,000 and less, choices are abundant – and perhaps that is exactly the issue. Educate yourself about the market by focusing on the best available, museum-quality works in the current market (hint: this is how we all got started). A good starting point is to see what museums are adding to their collections, either through their acquisition budget or private donation.

Continue reading to learn about our price filters in the ‘Discover’ section and auction records which can help you learn about the Old Masters market.

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A visitor at an exhibition opening, 2018
Step 03

Learn how to judge the quality of an Old Master painting

The selling and buying of art is often subjective and serendipitous and the price is ultimately what another person wishes to pay. There is no simple formula for determining the value of a painting but there are contributing factors that affect the current market price. In general, a combination of the following factors play a role in the pricing of an Old Master painting (as well as drawings and sculpture):

Nicholas Hall lectures about Raphael at Zeng Fanzhi’s Yuan Museum, Beijing, 2015
Step 04

Find your favorite way to shop

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Stay in the picture

From our journal