These Are the 11 Things That Make A Painting Valuable

'The Girl With The Pearl Earring' (1665)
'The Girl With The Pearl Earring' (1665) | via WikiCommons
Last year, a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting was sold at Sotheby’s for $110.5 million (£85.4 million), making it the sixth most expensive artwork ever sold at auction. But how is it possible for a canvas covered in paint to be worth such a staggering sum? These are the 11 things that make a painting valuable.


The first element that sets a cheap painting apart from an expensive one is, of course, its authenticity. A real Monet is always going to be worth more than a copy.


An artwork’s provenance, or a history of who it has belonged to, is another determining factor in its value. For example, if a painting was once owned by a prominent collector or came from a respected gallery, it will automatically be worth more.


This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but a painting’s condition is also an important factor. If, for example, an artwork has sun damage or a tear, that will adversely affect its price.

Historical significance

Claude Monet, Waterliles via WikiCommons

Ask yourself, is the work in question a major player in the canon of art history? If so, that’s added 0’s to the price right away.

Popularity of the artist

Likewise, if the artist is super trendy at the moment, his or her work will cost more, regardless of whether the work has real staying power.


If the artwork in question exhibits recognisiable features of a famous artist, it will be worth more. For example, a cubist painting by Picasso will typically cost more than one of his early landscapes, because people associate Picasso with cubism.

Backstory of the artist

If an artist has an interesting back story, such as an early death for example, the price will be affected. This is partially because if he or she produced less work, by virtue of dying young, then supply and demand comes into play right away, but also because artist’s lives tend to fascinate the public, so any captivating story will help sell their work.


Generally speaking, works on canvas will always sell for more than those on paper. Likewise, paintings will sell for more than a sketch or, of course, a print.


Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Yellow, Black, Blue via WikiCommons

Colour also comes into play when determining a painting’s value. Historically, paintings that contain red, for example, always cost more.

Subject matter

Similarly, artworks of certain subject matter tend to sell for more than others. For example, paintings of beautiful women tend to be worth more than paintings of men, although there are of course exceptions to this. Sunny landscapes tend to win out over dark ones as do ships in calm seas over ships in a storm. However, it is worth noting that when we are talking about the work of a very famous painter, these rules don’t necessarily apply.

‘Wall power’

Although difficult to quantify in words, an artwork’s ‘wall power’ is the perhaps the biggest determining factor in its value. Does it shock? Does it inspire awe? Does it just draw you in and you don’t know why? All of this will help the price soar.