Collecting guide

New to Old Masters

What are ‘Old Masters’ (in art)?

Yuan recalls during one of her first ventures in Asia as an Old Masters auction specialist, a client enthusiastically confessed in her his interest in old Western paintings. When asked to give a few artists he had in mind, the client replied: Picasso, Monet and van Gogh.

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.

Yuan Fang presents at the inaugural Museum 2050 symposium at the Long Museum, Shanghai, May 2018 © Kevin Ching

How do I start collecting Old Masters?

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.

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). The most obvious thing to do is to see what museums are adding to their collections, either through their acquisition budget or 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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Nicholas Hall lectures about Raphael at Zeng Fanzhi’s Yuan Museum, Beijing, 2015
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):

Job Andriaensz. Berckheyde, The Stock Exchange in Amsterdam, ca. 1675-1680 © Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Step 04

Find your favorite way to shop

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Nicholas Hall and a client at an exhibition opening, 2018 © Christian Nyampeta
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