Deep Thought(s) Thursday: Do you owe your gallery?

Here are two scenarios for you. Let’s tackle both (notice the plural in today’s post title).

Pam Spika Nicholson, Momentum. Painting.
Pam Spika Nicholson, Momentum. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. ©The Artist

Scenario 1

I have paintings in a gallery but I also do summer outdoor art festivals.

Someone who has never step foot in the gallery sees my work on the gallery’s website and looks me up. He finds my website and decides to come to an art festival to see other work. He then wants me to do a custom painting.

Do I pay the gallery owner the 50/50 commission on the custom painting even though the client never set foot in the gallery?

Scenario 2

I have paintings in a gallery but I also do summer outdoor art festivals.

A client sees my paintings in the gallery, but none are quite the right size or color.
From just my name, the client finds my website online, and decides to come to an art festival to see other work and then wants me to do a custom painting.

Do I pay the gallery owner the 50/50 commission on the custom painting even though it was never in their gallery and was decided upon at an outdoor festival?  Do I still owe them since the client saw my work at their gallery first?

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67 thoughts on “Deep Thought(s) Thursday: Do you owe your gallery?”

  1. No and No
    The internet has changed the rules but not our integrity. I sell the majority of my work through a major online gallery. I consider the work placed in that gallery as ‘exclusive’ to the gallery. I would never under sell the gallery pricing.

    If an artist signed a contract to split future commissions with a gallery they should honor that agreement. But, personally I would never sign an agreement that puts a gallery in control of unknown future commissions or relationships.

  2. Interesting scenarios, thanks. 99% of the time I refer enquiries back to the galleries I use. A couple of months ago I had an email from a lady who wanted to buy a painting on my website, (she’d bought one previously from my ‘best’ gallery) – I forwarded her interest to the gallery and the lady bought 3 large paintings. I didn’t ‘under value’ her first investment and she then felt confident enough to invest in 3 more paintings. (Also, it’s a small world out there and you never know who knows who!).

  3. It all depends on what you have written in your contract with the gallery. Normally the galleries only get paid on what they SELL IN the gallery.

  4. I would say yes and yes – if someone finds me through a gallery I currently show with, I consider the gallery due some of my profit from the deal.

    However, I don’t pay my galleries their usual 40% for commissions – we usually agree on 15-20% since I do so much more work for a custom job than for something they just have hanging on the wall. In either situation I would call the gallery and let them know what’s up, and communicate about what would be fair – working with a gallery should be a relationship.

  5. On Facebook, I posed an associated question: What if a collector discovers your work in one gallery, but buys a painting of yours at a different gallery – does the 2nd gallery (who made the sale) owe the first gallery (where they first saw your work) a commission?

    With the way the Internet is changing sales rules. I think it would be a lot simpler if the person or gallery who actually sells the artwork gets the commission. That way nobody has to keep track of where the collector first saw your work. If I sell one of my works at an outdoor show – I am the sales rep, and I should get the sales commission.

  6. I agree with Stacey Peterson. I’ve had this situation come up and to one of my gallery’s surprise, I contacted them and arranged to send them a check for 20% after the sale.

    But, I think it applies where there is a strong causal relationship between the buyer finding your art through a gallery and then coming directly to you. If they’ve seen your work in several places and eventually seek you out, I think the causal relationship is dissipated and the sale is yours alone.

    Good galleries do more than store our work – marketing and developing relationships with collectors is expensive. So, if I benefit from that effort, I don’t mind sharing some of the proceeds.

    I’m curious what gallery owners think of this.

  7. One of our galleries asks that we pay 10% to all sales attributed directly to the gallery. So in that case, we would pay in both scenarios, because the buyer found the artist through the gallery directly (or online).

    I agree with an earlier commenter that it should be addressed in the contract up front, and I would add that you should be sure to honor your written contract. It’s the right thing to do.

  8. Mira, you’ve got a very good point here. If a collector sees my work at a gallery and then contacts me personally to buy from my website or studio – and says they saw my work at the gallery – there are a couple of ways I would handle it.

    As listed above, we were dealing with outdoor shows… these shows cost money to set up and require that I work all day there, so when I’m the sales person at my show, I keep the commission – just like a gallery would.

    I would never take a work out of a gallery to sell it on my own behind the gallery’s back. Many times if I have a relationship with the gallery, I send the painting they want to the gallery and sell it there to the client there.
    Stacey has a good idea – giving a lower percent to the gallery.

    Sounds like I’m changing my mind a bit, but essentially, when doing outdoor shows, events and openings, I don’t give the gallery a commission. When selling from my studio, I would certainly consider sending them a commission.
    I’m tired now… bad time of day for me to be writing anything 😉

  9. I have had gallery representation in the past and that dealer would have expected %50 in both scenarios. Which is part of the reason I am trying to sell my work without a gallery. Personally, I think in scenario 1, the gallery should not get a cut, but in scenario 2 I think they should

  10. See the first publication Visual Art practices…
    I emailed the ACGA to clarify(Australian Commercial Gallery Association) about this publication, which mentions that commission should be given regardless of the physicality of the sale of the transaction…They admit that many collectors try to go around the gallery on purpose & that if you work with a gallery, but end up with a collector who will only come to your studio to buy, that should not negate your relationship with the gallery…
    I used this advice this year, & though it was painful, after a sale from my studio, I went to my gallery & gave them a chunk…
    Turns out it was the best thing I could have done…I became like gold to them, & had distinguished myself among the plethora…
    I now always give commission to the gallery I am with, no matter if the sale transacts online, from the studio, on the street or to my mother…& I write this on my websites transparently so the gallery & the collectors all know this is my rule…
    I must note, I only work with one gallery at a time, & I now only give one third commission across the board, that 50 percent thing turned out to be ludicrous for me…
    What I found after researching this was that galleries are incredibly paranoid about deals being made without them getting a piece…I also found that if you choose to let them be a part of everything you do, when you move on to other galleries, those people who you honoured speak well of you…
    It may not be the get rich quick way to be sure, but if you are in it for reputation then it works…( above all, chacun son gout)…

  11. That’s a big HELLS NO! Galleries owe US. Without work they have no sales and then no income. I’ve sold about 15 paintings this year and 3 have sold in galleries. I don’t “need” them. Obviously, I sign a contract with them, if they make a sale that is bound by that agreement then yes they are entitled to the funds and I am obliged to pay since I agreed to it up front. Outside of that scenario I do not owe them any further duty.

    HAPPY PAINTING and hopefully Happy Sales!

  12. I say no on the first one.

    As for the second one, I know I’ve memorized the names of several artists I see in galleries or co-ops and I go home and look them up on the net. If it hadn’t been for the gallery, I wouldn’t have known about the artist. The gallery has rent to pay.

    If I had a collector come to me after finding me in a gallery and looking me up, I’d be tempted to send the gallery a referral fee. Not a full commission price though because I did the work myself after all, but the gallery had referred the client to me, so wouldn’t that be fair to repay a gallery with a sign of my appreciation? After all, a gallery is working for me in helping me to sell my art and poor employee morale is a bad thing. Besides, I’d hope that they’d return the favor the next time a big client comes through the door and they direct the client to my work instead of another artists.

  13. Having a gallery means that I am in a business relationship with them. If I want respect from them then I have to treat them the way I would like to be treated. It is about doing what is right. If the gallery is working hard to represent you & build up a market for your work why go behind their back? If a gallery is representing your work the only outdoor shows you should be in are those that are really showing professional level work. If I were in an outdoor show that was in the same area as the gallery or I was listed on an open studio tour I would inform the gallery. I think that paying some commission would not be out of the question. It is best to discuss this at the start of the business relationship. Who knows the gallery may not want anything.
    Regarding internet sales- I would also discuss this with the gallery when entering into the contractual obligations. It is better to work out the details beforehand than having to face an awkward moment later on. The same would go for commissions which I would prefer to go through the gallery.
    I would like to have a long term relationship with the gallery and going behind their back is not the way to do it. Everything is relative. If your gallery is a long distance from where you live & create this opens up another type of situation. It is always best to remember what is said about casting your bread upon the waters.

  14. It’s called “karma.” If you are working with a gallery and have a good relationship with them, you should be doing everything to make sure that relationship continues to be good.

    In both scenarios above, the gallery may have never known that the client sought you out after seeing your work hanging in the gallery. If you show up with a check to the gallery because of a sale that you wouldn’t have had without them, then your stock is going to go up with them.

    Now, should that check to the gallery be the usual 40-50% you pay when a gallery sale is made? I don’t think so. Those percentages should be for works that are in the gallery and the gallery staff was able to sell on your behalf. But a commission of 10-15% would not be out of line and would make you stand out from every other artist they have displayed in their space.

    One person above (Zach) says he sold 15 paintings, three of which sold in the gallery. The scenario was, did your other 12 sales result from a client finding you through the gallery. If they found you on their own, without any input from the gallery, then yes, you can keep the whole thing. But, if they found you because of the gallery and you decide that you don’t owe the gallery anything, then your karma is in serious jeopardy. And as they say, what goes around comes around.

  15. I think one of the interesting things this can cause is when you have gallery representation in more than one area, and you have a client approach you from area A (where you have a gallery rep) to buy/commission work from you after having seen your work in area B (where you have a gallery rep).

    So, who gets the finders fee or commission? Who do you refer to? If you are trying to work with both galleries in both areas, but you have a potential client that lives in one area but discovered you in another, this could be a huge problem.

    I’ve already had a deal with a gallery fall through because the wording in the contract wouldn’t elaborate on this kind of situation, and I wasn’t comfortable with it. The gallery took a firm stance that they were due 50% on any sale that resulted from the client having “discovered” me in their gallery, regardless of how long ago it happened or if that client even lived in the area, or if they even knew who the client was or had talked to the client. I know you can’t cover every possible situation, but the internet is definitely causing problems in how we view this relationship and situation.

  16. Having been on both sides of this scenario, I strongly recommend a written agreement between artist and galleries. Cyberspace has changed the rules, anyone with a little Googling skill can find you (assuming you have some professional art presence online). For their 50% commission, a gallery should be providing not only hanging space, but also marketing, pr and professional sales representation. Paying a 10-15% commission on sales of art outside of the gallery that are attributable to the gallery’s influence/connections makes great business sense (see Karma notes above) and this should also be included in the artist/gallery contract. Personally, I lean toward the do unto others approach. Which reminds me, I need to write a check for a piece I sold during an event exhibit last week even though the organization did not request any payment.

  17. For Dave, Yes sir, I believe firmly in Karma. My other sales did not result from a gallery relationship. The point being that I do my own marketing with decent results, a gallery benefits from having an artist who promotes themselves. I suppose my first post had too “harsh” an air about it. The relationship is symbiotic to be sure.

    Robert: Yikes, difficult scenario you present, I don’t have multi-regional representation, I suppose that is a great problem to have!

  18. Interesting questions and thoughtful responses. I don’t have much gallery experience yet so haven’t thought this through – but setting as much as possible down in the beginning contract makes sense. And offering a percentage as “finder’s fee” or however you want to look at it, also makes sense to me. I would not want to be bound to turn over the full 40 or 50% unless there was a very strong connection to the gallery, the work that they did to promote me, etc. So I will look at any contracts carefully.

  19. I would also like to bring up this question:

    Some of you have mentioned karma, and the practice of giving a finder’s fee to a gallery if a sale is made as a result of the gallery’s promotional activities, but the sale wasn’t made by the gallery directly.

    How often, if you are represented by a gallery, or have work showing in a gallery, do you endeavor to send people to the gallery to view your work? How often do these people end up become repeat patrons of the gallery, purchasing other artists’ works? Does the gallery now owe you a referral or finder’s fee? Did this client “discover” the gallery because of you?

    Galleries will often want compensation for sales made as a result of their efforts – but what compensation does the artist get for sales made as a result of their efforts?

    Think about participating in a group show – you promote and send invitations to the show, some of your invitees show up, and sometimes they buy the work of other artists. But I would doubt the gallery remits a finder’s fee to the artist that invited the new client.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m harping on galleries, because they can be wonderful to work with – I find it’s a good thing to work hard to promote galleries you work with, and it often has it’s rewards (as some have mentioned above), I just felt that if we are discussing financial situations, this was a valid line of questioning.

  20. First of all in cases of both it would never be a 50/50 split. Sounds lovely that they found you by your name alone. My situation is I have people come to the gallery love the artist and ask do they have a website. Most artist do , so why the smoke and mirrors, I give them the artists business card. I have yet to hear back from an artist who told me they had a sale because of the gallery. I do as a courtesy call the artist and tell them so and so was interested and may be in touch. This lets the artist know should the client get in touch with them, they were in the gallery.

  21. Lesson learned here is answer the question up front in the contract with your gallery. My gallery and I choose the paintings that they will earn commission on and the duration of that right to commission. I do agree with Stacey that a good gallery that gets you a lead for a commission should get some benefit and that could also be spelled out in a contract so that there is no loss of goodwill should you have either of those scenarios.

  22. I agree with Stacey. Since a commissioned piece takes me away from my own work, I always charge a higher rate for the painting. If the gallery initiated it then it should get something, but not any 50%.

    And Robert’s question is one I have often thought of. Why isn’t this a two-way street? Especially these days with the Internet, many artists I’m sure ARE bringing people into the galleries via their own websites. That’s great! But what about sending a person to a gallery directly and said person buys another artist’s work instead?? Shouldn’t the artist get a finder’s fee?

  23. Robert Bean asks: How often, if you are represented by a gallery, or have work showing in a gallery, do you endeavor to send people to the gallery to view your work? How often do these people end up become repeat patrons of the gallery, purchasing other artists’ works? Does the gallery now owe you a referral or finder’s fee? Did this client “discover” the gallery because of you?

    Yes, Robert – they DO owe you: it’s called your commission. 😉 You may not be able to control whether your referrals buy your work on that visit, but for each that does, YOU reap great benefits. You also reap great PR points with that gallery; invaluable to your long term career.

    It is in our best interest to ALWAYS send everyone possible to any gallery that has our work displayed under those beautiful lights and in a pristine environment with professional sales people. Professional gallery settings are worth their weight in gold. More importantly: a professional salesperson – who follows-up on inquiries, sends out photos of the newest work, and genuinely cares about our success (and of course – their own) is worth their weight in platinum.

    You may have guessed: Yes to both of the scenarios – BUT don’t pay more than a 20% fee!

    Meanwhile, there seems to be a lot of mistrust on both sides of this discussion. The internet should be a place where anyone can learn more about our artistry and view our work, but it stands to reason that galleries do much more than a static web site can do for us. And if we have a studio that we invite people to visit – that’s usually by appointment only and naturally limited so we can still produce our artwork. Galleries are open multiple hours each week – some 7 days a week! They offer you lots of opportunity for sales and if they are really doing it right, their marketing arm will create new clients of your work while you are loading a kiln or stretching a canvas. Marketing is a skill set and it takes serious chunks of time! So – with smart representation you have one less thing to do – and especially important if you don’t know “thing one” about how to launch a marketing campaign, do the important follow-up and actually SELL to the respondents of your campaign.

    Without sales what the heck do we have?


    I think the elephant in the room is “undercutting your gallery to make a deal.” Don’t do that. It’s poison.

    At an art fair, it is wise to consider part of one’s assignment to be doing PR for ourselves, our work, AND our work that is sitting on walls in galleries – nearby or distant. While making sales then and there at the fair is important, if you lack ability at follow-up (or suck at sales but keep thinking it will get better at the NEXT fair) I would even go so far as to suggest sending your contact list from your fairs directly to your top selling gallery representative and let them have at it! You didn’t/couldn’t close the sale at the fair so what do you have to lose? Just be sure to let your clients know that you have a representative who you will be sharing the contact info with so you won’t risk “spam” contacting by that gallery staff member.

  24. This is a great (and complicated) topic. If you have an agreement with your gallery, then yes to both.And if you have a PROFESSIONAL gallery that is really trying to promote and sell your work, then yes to both. I always promote the places that show my work & send people there. But I have had some situations which weren’t as clear cut….I had a gallery/shop showing my prints. The owner didn’t want to show my originals & when a patron came & bought about 7 prints and asked for my number, the owner gave it to the buyer. The woman who bought the prints made several studio visits over the next year or so & eventually, she & her husband bought an original painting from me. Did I give a kickback to the gallery? No. Should I have? I’d be interested in your responses.

  25. I say YES!

    Christine. This is the perfect scenario for you to GET respected! You said: “The owner didn’t want to show my originals…”

    If you send them a (10 -20%) fee and then can credit yourself as having sold an original to THAT GALLERY’S CLIENT you benefit twice. You get the nod for being grateful for their referral directly to you AND you get an opportunity to “sell” them on the idea that they should reconsider their position on showing only your prints.

    Win-win for the long term for VERY small costs.


  26. I actually think we weren’t given enough information in the description of the scenario…
    – What kind of gallery? (one that really invest in the artists and promote them?)
    – Is the artist ONLY at that gallery?
    – … and I would also like to know the provision. In Stockholm, Sweden, many galleries will take 50% + vat … which ends up being 60 % of the price for the art piece.

    the “correct” answer will depend on that information…

  27. No & No!

    If a friend of friend says Oh my friends an artist, you’d like her work, and their friend buys or commissions a piece from me, should I pay my friend for the reference? No. I’d thank them, do a favor for them, maybe give them a lil discount because they’re given me some sales and they’re my friend.

    But anyone could see my art in a number of different places. Doesn’t mean I have to pay every person or place or gallery just ’cause that’s where they first saw my work.

  28. 1. No, *unless* you have exclusiviity agreed in your gallery contract.
    2. Yes, probably (but see below). That client wouldn’t have your name unless they saw you in the gallery. The gallery is the source of initial contact. That’s why we use galleries, to broaden our exposure to potential new buyers.

    Of course there are usually more factors and it’s not that simple. Sometimes an agent commission of 10-20% is more appropriate. Sometimes a gallery only has exclusivity on the pieces in their gallery, sometimes not. Was the fair within the gallery’s geographic area and thus in the contract? (My contracts usually state a certain area or distance from the gallery – for example one has exclusivity in a 5 mile radius.) There is also the issue of time periods – has it been a week since they saw your work in the gallery? A month? A year? Again, what’s in the gallery contract?

    More information needed in those questions. 🙂

  29. You can’t go wrong if you remember who displays your work. I recently was approached at home by a buyer who saw a piece of mine in a show in the gallery I belong to. She contacted me at home because the painting was no longer in the gallery. She bought the painting in my home and I had no problem paying the gallery 15% of the sale. I have been with that gallery for a number of years now and the exposure I have received through them has resulted in most of my sales. It’s a win/win situation!

  30. Thank You Helen McIntosh that is the ideal way of doing this. This should not be such a difficult topic but apparently the nuances are many. Under the title of Pay the Piper I did address this only a week ago on my art blog. Clint Watson also had guest editor Lori Woodward address this issue as a guest columnist, I recommend that read but do not know how to link as it was a newsletter. It all comes down to ethics.

  31. 10-20 % would be appropriate (as a courtesy). Since he found you though the gallery (website). Not 50/50.

    2 Again not 50/50. But definitely some compensation would be in order (as a courtesy).

    I think 50/50 is only fair when specific works are on the gallery premises, in their possession and/or have been set aside for them as specified in your written contract and only for the duration of the period set aside in the contract. If the gallery arranged the commission between you and the client, they should get the full 50/50 for the custom work.

    That being said, it is a matter of relationship building and mutual trust. I think it’s a positive thing to encourage win-win situations. For the gallery artist, the artist and gallerist need EACH OTHER in today’s market. So ethically, if the prospect finds you because of the gallery representing you, then the gallery should be rewarded for having the good sense in seeing you as an asset. Sending the gallery a percentage of a sale you closed on your own (that in some way they influenced) would go a long way in encouraging your relationship to blossom. If the percentage is reasonable, both the artist and gallerist win. If it is not reasonable, then bitterness and resentment leading to distrust could eventually develop. Not a win-win!

  32. There are lots of great comments to this. If they saw my work in the gallery and contact me because of that then yes, but not 50/50. There is also the sad truth that many people will think the artist will give them a “better deal” if they contact the artist directly. My gallery works very hard for me and I respect his efforts far too much to mess with that relationship. I don’t do festivals so can’t speak to that and don’t do commissions but people often come to my studio and buy directly from me. If it’s a piece that was in the gallery within a year (that’s our agreement) then I would send my gallery a cut of the sale and I would never undersell them! It just so happens that the work I sell directly from my studio has never been in any of my galleries. There was an incident some years ago with a gallery in my building that carried the work of a number of us and one of us was wildly underselling from his studio. The gallery found out and politely returned all his work.

  33. I have operated a gallery for 8 years in the most challenging economic period of our lifetimes. Ultimately it is up to the artist to decide on a business plan that works for them. You may not “need” a gallery if you have been successful marketing, selling, and creating work simultaneously. But if you choose to work with a gallery, percentage of sales is the cost for that marketing. My full time employee and I work 8-10 hour days marketing our artists into every possible channel of distribution; art consultants, designers, architects, developers, collectors, and least of all is walk in sales. The hardcost of the overhead of a gallery includes, rent, insurance, advertsing, exhibit promotion, and oh yeah, lightbulbs. Average $10-$15K/month. The soft costs are the gallery owner’s time in attending all museum lectures, trade and neighborhood association meetings, city meetings, public art meetings, all in efforts to reach the buyers in a given region. Additional is the gallery manager’s time to run a continually churning press machine to get the artists names in every possible publication. To keep the website current with available inventory, and linked to as many other web and social networking passthroughs. Chances are pretty high that someone has hit my artists name thru gallery effort. Most galleries have statewide exclusives because they could not recover the cost of promotion and exhibiting if someone can pick up the phone and buy a piece of art direct, hoping for a lesser cost. Collector education and programming to build loyalty and keep them coming back to see All artists latest work costs money. I have annual artist meetings with my artists where we discuss gallery marketing planned for the year, and what the artists career goals are. Our relationship works because we have agreed that we want the same business plan. They create art for 3-4 gallery exhibits nationswide, and I promote them in this region. The gallery splits are under the Ethics Clause of my contract. There’s a new book on Amazon for Artists that details the different business plans available – “Art/Work”

    1. Wow! You sound like a great gallery! Can you represent me? Unfortunately, in my experience, not all galleries are like this and literally hang up the work and wait for someone to walk in. They may also do a little bit of shared cost advertising with the artist, and complain when the artist does their own self promotion and not mention the gallery. You deserve 50% and great loyalty, as for the others…well I left them.
      Regarding commissions, if a client contacts you within the area covered by your gallery, then you owe the gallery the agreed , contracted commission. Full stop. You need to ask every contact about your work where thy got your name from. If they contact you directly because they live in your area and that’s not where the gallery is, and you have to do the appointment. sales etc, then you owe the gallery where they saw your work a cut (20% sounds more than fair). If you have another gallery in your own area, you should refer the contact to that gallery – they are probably better at sales than you and that means a better chance of money in the bank. However, if the painting they are interested in has been returned by the gallery or edited out of a show, then you should just pay a referral fee (ie 20%) because you are the champion of the work, not them. Gets complicated, doesn’t it???

  34. I think No for the first one and yes for the second. If the client told me they had come from my gallery and now wanted to buy from me… that would cause me to send them back to the gallery. A lot of times people will deliberately try and side step the gallery to save some money, especially those familiar with the art world. It’s a stab in the back of the gallery to sell to someone on the side. I would talk about their needs etc and if they saw a painting they liked in my studio I would probably arrange to take it to the gallery and let them pay the gallery directly. I wouldn’t sell to them from my studio in that case.

  35. I agree with the paying of commission as a recognition of the gallery’s input and work. At a lower rate as several have suggested. My question is however, do you think this commission at lower rate as a referral fee should have some time limit on it. What if someone contacts the artist directly after say one year, two years..ten years. Might it be an idea to have a set time limit on how long this duty of fee should be paid? If this is open ended then the artist could be paying the gallery forever for many works just because the buyer first became aware of the artist via walking into the gallery…

  36. Count: If the person found you in the gallery originally and the gallery remains in business (AND you still want to have a good relationship with the gallery), you continue to owe the gallery. In fact, you should just refer sales to the gallery in the first place if they represent you. Once you sever ties with the gallery, you are probably released from future obligations.

    Treat your gallery as you would like to be treated. Gallerists know one another well! If word gets out that you are making sales that should have been the gallery’s, you will be ostracized from other galleries.

  37. There has been a lot of sense written in this particular Blog regarding the artist/gallery relationship. As a gallery owner/curator I seem to spend a great deal of my time explaining to artists the real contribution a professional gallery can make to their career. Any resentment of gallery fees/commission usually comes from artists who are at the beginning of their career, wheras the more successful and established painters tend to embrace the idea of the artist/gallery partnership and work it to their advantage.

    Self-reperesenting artists will often sell work direct to buyers at a hugely discounted rate to account for what they don’t have to pay in gallery commission. All this does is devalue the work of that particular artist and, in my experience, news of the sale always trickles back to the gallery. Trust & integrity are important qualities, and working against galleries in this way will only lower the respect and reputation they are able to build for themselves within the industry.

  38. Alyson Stanfield

    Phil: Thanks for sharing your experience here. I tend to agree that most artists who have had longstanding relationships with galleries would better understand the need to pay a finder’s fee to the gallery.

    I wonder what you think about a time limit? Or if an artist leaves the gallery?

  39. This discussion is interesting but it does not touch on the question of the role of a gallery in enhancing the value of an artist’s work. The people who market everything else from baked beans to Bentleys get their contracts by asserting that they do just exactly this better than anyone else and its hard to see why art should be different. It is all about added value. Every artist is in effect a brand and the value of that brand is set in the buyers mind on pretty much the same way as anything else. In my experience self representing artists who do not sell through galleries obtain lower prices and have to do a lot more work. Galleries feel hard done by therefore when artists sell direct and they either see nothing or a pittance and the artist trouser pockets considerably more than would have been the case if galleries had not structured buyers expectations.

  40. I agree with Keith. This is pretty much exactly what I was about to write after reading about half of the comments. It’s tempting to sell on the side, but you have to remind yourself that the offer most likely would never had arisen if it weren’t for the gallery creating some sort of legitimacy for you, in essence, “branding” you as Keith says. It seems to me that many art buyers want confidence that you’ve achieved a certain level of success by getting gallery representation. Some buyers might be looking for a deal buying direct, but you have to think that if they are looking at original artwork in commercial galleries, they can afford to pay full price. Don’t worry about losing the sale, if they really like your work they will pay for it.

  41. This summer a gallery included 5 of my paintings in a local group show-last summer I participated in a similar event there. I was a late invite by the Gallery (in both cases) and my name was never included on mailings. I did create my own mailing this summer including 3 other venues of my work including this gallery show and mailed it to my sizable list. I have not sold any work through this gallery and feel it is not the right fit. But-the Gallery has told me there is a client very interested in my work, who I met at the opening and they want to bring them to my annual studio event this Fall. If a sale occurs I expect to pay a finders fee but the Gallery and I have no precedent here.15-20% sounds reasonable. I appreciate your thoughts.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Tess: I only got 1 response to this when I asked on Twitter, but she said 20% sounded right.

  42. Found this forum…it’s old but need advise, please help.
    I live in very small village. I’ve just had my first solo exhibition at a local restaurant who have artists exhibit each month on their walls. They take 10% of pieces sold at the exhibition. They did no marketing except a poster at the local shop, the doctors surgery and one in their restaurant.
    I get regular texts messages from the restaurant when they are doing special event or dj night or fancy dinner etc, I got message about my exhibition or my private view night. The only people there that night other than my friends n family were a few diners.
    We had no agreement written down, but knew that I would pay them 10% of the sales at the end of my two weeks.
    I had four commissions before my exhibition started, I received 2 definately ones not he night of the private view and over the last two weeks some people I know (small village, we all know one another) said they would call me as they’d like to chat about a piece sometime.
    When I had a meeting with the restaurant owner she told me my commission I must now pay and asked how many commissions I’ve got as I know owe her 10% on each one.
    I think this is wrong…..
    What should I do
    Thye are not a gallery, they don’t promote me….

    1. Sweets,

      First, it’s always good to get an agreement in writing, and should be a priority when you exhibit like this.

      Having said that though, just from what you’ve said in your post, I would think you owe the restaurant 10% of any sale or commission made as a direct result of your exhibition of your artwork in that venue.

      If you had 4 commissions lined up before the exhibition was hanging, then those commission are a result of your work, not the restaurant’s. The two definite commissions you received from the night of the private view and two weeks after would result in a 10% fee to the restaurant. As for the ones where people said they might like to chat sometime, I think that really is a matter of time. If they chat with you and hire you within a few months of the exhibition, then I can see the restaurant being entitled to 10% of that. If they talk to you two years later, then most likely you owe no percentage to the restaurant (they could have easily seen your work in several venues since the initial show in the restaurant, so who exactly would be entitled to the percentage?)

      As for paying her percentage right now, again, this is where having it in writing helps to clarify the situation, but if you haven’t been paid, or done the work, how can you pay her? If they are pending commissions as a result of showing your work in her restaurant, then tell her they are pending, and you will remit the 10% when the commissions are completed and the client has paid in full. Now, if you are talking direct sales of existing pieces from her restaurant, then you should pay her as quickly as possible once the client has paid in full (I think the norm is within 30 days of sale).

      This is all my opinion, of course, and is no way legal advice. And whatever your response to the restaurant owner, be as polite and professional as possible.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Sweets: Robert has give you a good answer here. If the commissions came about as a result of showing in the restaurant, I would give them 10%. And I would make very sure you have everything in writing next time. (Easy to say that now.)

  43. I agree with Robert and Alyson, but I don’t comment here just to pile on. I wanted to comment on the conceptualization of what Promotion means in this context. You say “they are not a gallery, they don’t promote me….”

    I would argue/point-out that the very nature of them putting your work on their walls and creating ANY buzz of ANY nature within your community must be given a nod as being promotional as it’s main purpose. For a restaurant who takes on this task, it is considered a symbiotic relationship: they engage in creating space on their walls to promote YOU and you potentially would be engaged in promoting them to potential collectors. At the very least, they might hope a new face might enjoy a meal based on your recommendation to potential collectors. Cross promotion is what all exhibitions strive to achieve.

    Meanwhile, if you don’t have a gallery representing your work within a reasonable driving distance, this gallery deserves 10% (so reasonable!) of even quasi/questionable origins as a thank-you for them allowing you to have an exhibit. Add that this is a small community, and you really don’t want to create bad will. Clearly, you and the restaurant owner both learned valuable lessons going forward, but I would err on the side of graciousness.

    To the best of their ability and despite the fact that they are not a gallery, they definitely – by any definition – promoted your work. For you to think otherwise is to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. They earned their commission(s) and are in a blind-faith arrangement to begin with – so be generous. It will be rewarded in the long run.

  44. Here it goes: I’m more of a middle man, between a “gallery” (not exactly a gallery but a very nice display area, which is large too, with a ton of foot traffic) who wants an artist and the artist themselves. So basically I’m a middle man so to speak. If the gallery is asking for a 25% take on anything that is sold during the showing period, is it then reasonable to ask for 5% as a finder’s fee?? So for the 60 day duration in which the art is hanging anything that is sold would be 30% for venue and me, with 70% to the artist. Oh and I’m a firm believer in Karma, however there is a cap on how long after your showing your should feel obligated to pay the gallery.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Lindsay: I think you should be asking for more than 5%.

      Is the agreement you have with the venue or with the artists? Or do you have agreements with both?

  45. Right now it’s a verbal agreement with both. I will be sitting in on any negotiations to make sure both parties are happy. And this arrangement will only apply to the works hanging during the 60 days. So essentially I’ll be playing middle man with side promotions for both the venue and the artist. For sure an interesting place to find myself in.

  46. This has truly made me consider alternative options, I am an artist living in mexico and recently a gallery from here sold my work in a collective exhibition. My work sold and thanks to that I received a phone call a week later saying there was another client interested to meet me. He first asked me for 1 thing for which I gave the gallery 30% and then right now its been 3 pieces he has asked for. My question is do I still have to continue giving the gallery 30%? or should it just be for the first pieces the client asked for? apart from that one time the gallery hasn’t been marketing well and simply hangs the work up and expects people to buy. However since its a new gallery I really wouldn’t want to ruin my relationship with them.

    1. Gabriela – I think you answered your own question: you really wouldn’t want to ruin your relationship with them. This collector found you and is giving you 70% of 4 sold pieces because of the connection to that gallery. He saw your work AND (and this is SO important to remember) felt justified to purchase your work at your prices because of your representation in a “gallery” in an “exhibition”. Had he seen your work on a wall at a local bank, would he be so motivated a collector? You can’t answer that question fully, which is why you must support the support that being in that gallery seemingly gives to you and your art.

      Anything less than your full partnership is ethically questionable, but even more important: it’s bad business practice to cut off a potential career building relationship. Even if they are not doing what you want with marketing your work, you can point to this “successful” relationship for the rest of your career.

      And you can always ask them to brainstorm some marketing ideas with you. They may just need a little nudge and you might be the perfect partner to help them help you.

  47. Mckenna, things in mexico are a bit different in mexico, the gallery didn’t purchase anything. For the first exhibition the owner asked ( never bought ) for my work and during the opening for the gallery someone saw my painting and bought it. Now, because the piece was still up someone else saw it and wanted to know me for other work. After speaking with the clients they commissioned me to do those 3 other pieces. The gallery only introduced us and after giving the first piece I spoke again with the clients and thats when they asked for the other 2 pieces. So thats why I wanted to know when do you stop paying the percentage even if you now run things by the client only.

    1. Gabriela,

      Please know that I have 50 years experience in business and 20 years with my own arts business and I am totally aware of consignment galleries and the policies. I also represented artists in San Francisco and negotiated quite a few consignment contracts with galleries back in the day.

      YOU absolutely owe 30 % when the gallery is still hanging your work – they are your client, still!

      AND when you continue to make sales to anyone they have introduced your work to through that gallery, that only happens because they supported your work in their gallery so they deserve their percentage. Period.

      If your work comes down from their walls and you get a phone call directly from someone who originally saw your work at the gallery after your relationship has ended, that is a separate sale. After all – they cannot purchase from the gallery anymore if you are no longer giving the gallery your work to sell. But think about this scenario: The person calls the gallery for your contact information because they saw the exhibit. The potential collector expresses desire to purchase a piece they had seen in the exhibit. Now what? If the gallery is kind enough to refer a purchaser to you – you owe them even if they are no longer representing you, but I would only give 10% in that case. If they feel that you are still “working with them” they will continue to try and find ways to sell your work (maybe put you on their website) including another exhibit someday. DON’T hurt your future with a gallery that has made sales for you. It’s not worth it in the long run.

      Remember: in what you have told us, you would not have any of these particular sales without that exhibit. Showing the referred client new work or doing commissions for new work that are only between you and the client are still only happening because that gallery sent that person to you. You say: “The gallery only introduced us”. Yes… and they did that with the desire to help you AND to bring in some referral money, too. Honor their desire to help you make sales to clients that learned about you because of their gallery and their DECISIONS to show your work and their DECISIONS to send interested collectors to you. They could just as easily have said: we don’t have a relationship with Gabriela at this time. And if you don’t honor them, that is what they will say in the future.

  48. I have a scenario where a client of mine who purchased a piece of my work at an art fair, was interested in a second piece. The client looked up my website (they had my card from the previous purchase) and noticed that I had a couple of pieces and were interested in the ones that were on sale (older winter collection of which I had 3 left was on sale during July/August and there were no other winter inventory at any gallery, only my studio). The website said the gallery had some of the inventory on hand and the client reached out to the gallery to enquire. The gallery had returned the inventory a month prior in exchange of new inventory. I also found out that the gallery has inventory listed still that had either been sold or was not under consignment to them any longer. The gallery incorrectly quoted the client the non-sale price of the two pieces the gallery previously had on consignment and had returned. The client phone me confused as to where the pieces were and what the prices were as the gallery was inconsistent with my website. I told the client that the pieces were in my possession and quoted the client the sale prices. The client then came for a viewing at my studio and purchased a third option the gallery had not quoted on. Subsequently the gallery said I owed a commission which has been in dispute since based on the fact that 1) the client was mine from a previous show and the lead came from my website and business card and the client had never visited the gallery or searched the gallery website looking to purchase art and 2) the gallery did not check with me or on my website the status of the inventory they had returned the previous month and therefore quoted incorrectly and confused the client and 3) the gallery didn’t facilitate the sale. I would have been happy to pay the commission had the gallery generated the lead, accurately facilitated the conversations with the client and facilitated the sale.

    Since that time, I have requested the gallery update their website to reflect pieces actually co-signed to them (most of the current pieces were showing at all!) and have requested the gallery reference my website for prices of pieces that are not in their consignment.

    I’m curious as to others opinions and advice regarding this scenario and any advice you might have.

    Thank you,

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Kristina, this is an unfortunate situation. Do you have a contract with your gallery? A simple consignment form (stating which works were consigned to the gallery) would clear all of this up.

    2. Hi Alyson, Thank you for your comment. I do not have a contract with the gallery and this is the first issue we’ve had. There have been other times that her gallery clients have come to me and I’ve referred them back to the gallery for the negotiation. What I do have is a tracking sheet we both sign every time we change up the inventory. That’s all unfortunately. Does anyone know where I might get a contract template to use in the future?
      Thank you,

  49. Hi Alyson: I show my work in a small non-profit gallery (not a true co-op, but the members volunteer their time for docent and other duties). We don’t have any contracts but abide by bylaws and standing rules. No where did it ever indicate I was to provide a 20% commission for work contracted outside the gallery – even if the customer’s first point of contact was through the gallery, I have procured two such commissions and did all the negotiations myself. Now the board of directors and Art Director are claiming that there is an “unspoken rule” regarding payment of the gallery’s 20% due them- even though each painting was deeply personal to each buyer and one of the paintings didn’t even fit the parameters for acceptable artwork to hang in the gallery (too large!). Furthermore, I had to store the very large painting for over 4 months. To be expected to give a 20% cut on outside sales when there are no written rules explicitly outlining this seems rather presumptuous. However, I don’t want to become known as a dishonorable artist since this is a small community. Perhaps a finder’s fee would be more appropriate for this gallery situation? I want to keep the relationship but am reluctant to pay the full 20% when there are no written rules for such cases. Please let me know your thoughts.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Nan: You owe ZERO without a contract. There is no such unwritten rule anywhere. There are, however, written contracts that could cover this. Without that, you owe nothing. HOWEVER, if the person first saw the artwork in the gallery and contacted you later, a finder’s fee of 20% is a reasonable offer to show good faith. I encourage your gallery to take the time to put together a contract for the artists who show there. Everyone should know what is expected of them.

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Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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