The Art of Appraisal

Say you inherit your aunt’s cherished painting of a long lost ancestor that she always believed was worth a mint. Or maybe you have a large collection of artworks that you have amassed over your lifetime and never had properly inventoried, evaluated and insured. Or perhaps the taxman cometh so you decide to donate an exquisite objet to a museum to take a deduction. These are all times when a qualified art appraiser can be of assistance.

From researching and valuing a single object to creating databases that document large collections of paintings and decorative arts, a qualified appraiser can help you understand what you have and what you may want to do with it. Properly identifying works of art, utilizing appropriate appraisal methodologies, interpreting price data and understanding the marketplaces for different items are what result in meaningful appraisals. This work requires precision – especially when you consider that appraisals conducted for tax purposes, be it estate or donation, will be reviewed by the IRS.

Still, as New Orleans art appraiser Amanda Winstead proves, the job isn’t all cataloging and calculations. Just imagine the exhilaration of finding a museum-worthy piece among someone’s seemingly ordinary belongings.

“I never get tired of looking at art and going through peoples’ homes reviewing their collections,” says Winstead. “You never know what you are going to find. Recently, I had spent two days at a large home filled with great modern furniture and Louisiana art when the client pointed out a set of Alexander Calder sculptures that her father had installed hidden away in a side courtyard in the 1960s. I was blown away.”  They recently sold at auction for almost $74,000.

Clockwise from left: L’Aurore (Dawn) by William Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905); early Newcomb Pottery vase; sculptures by Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976).

Winstead most loves the discovery aspect of her profession. “Often times, I am called into a home to look at one thing, which turns out to be of insignificant value. The client does not realize that they have a painting hanging in the corner of the dining room worth a lot of money. I discovered a 19th century European painting in a home in Shreveport in the spring of 2000 that sold at auction for $484,000. The dear lady had no idea it was worth that much! She was quite pleased, as you can imagine.”

Helping a client determine the value of their artwork is just part of the equation that adds up to the impressive price tags mentioned above. Matching the art with the ideal seller is another key factor, and appraisers can offer helpful advice when it comes to finding the right fit between what you have to sell and the auction house best suited to handling the material, which is of utmost importance.

So if that painting your aunt swore was created by a master doesn’t suit your tastes, get over your guilt and call a pro to come take a look. It might result in the art finding a nice new home, and you finding yourself with a bigger bank account.

Amanda Winstead // New Orleans, LA // 504.822.0725