Low Sun On The Sound 9x12 oil on canvas 020306

Gallery Commissions On Outside Sales

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Everyone would agree that a commission is due a gallery that hangs an artist’s work for sale once a sale is made. For some, things become a bit grayer when transactions occur outside the gallery walls—when the artist sells work from his studio directly to the client. 

When this does occur various considerations may be taken into account making for a less-than-clear determination on the matter. For example, questions like “where did the patron first see the artist’s work”, “does the gallery actively promote the artist”, “is the artist represented by other galleries”, and/or “what is the proximity of the gallery to the artist’s studio”, may cloud the artist’s decision making process.

Low Sun On The Sound by MTMcClanahan
Low Sun On The Sound by MTMcClanahan

Obviously it’s important to honor any contract the artist has with the gallery. But most would say that there is an ethical component at work here also, that being, a gallery that promotes you and gets you known, has earned something from this apart from what’s hanging on their walls. When they bring the artist a new client it doesn’t matter if the work the patron wants is actually hanging up or not, the gallery is earning a commission because of other things they do. Of course there are good galleries and not so good ones, as there are artists, but a gallery worth being in business with is worth their commission.

I began a discussion on this topic on LinkedIn and it garnered many interesting and varied responses. Below I’ve compiled a selection of those that showcase the major points presented in several of the group discussions. I’ve also created a survey, at the end of this post, in order to gather an overview of opinions on this question. You can comment on the Forum page, as well as on this post.

I found it interesting how the discussions branched off with other questions, questions about gallery percentages, price consistency, and the artist’s client list.

Question:

Should the artist pay the gallery, that shows their work, a commission on work sold directly from the artist to one of the galley’s patrons, a transaction the gallery was not involved in?

The buyer sees your work in the gallery, and may have even purchased work of yours from this same gallery, but then the buyer approaches you directly for a commission or to buy an existing piece you have on hand. Should the gallery expect a commission on this sale?

Responses:

I have had this experience on a few occasions. It has been a difficult situation to say the least. Especially with galleries today requiring artists to “not sell art work off their website.”
That is another discussion entirely,but I do my probing to find out as much information as I can about the patron. If a gallery name comes up I will always give the gallery the commission. It is a hard thing to do but it is a small world and I don’t want an angry gallery representative over one painting. BJ

It depends on the contract you and the gallery have signed. What does the contract say about such situations? Yes, there may be something in the contract about it. Read it very well.
If you are sure there is nothing about such situations in the contract, then you are free to decide yourself what you will do. No matter what is the connection of this person with the gallery, if he approaches you (the artist) for a work of art that isn’t/wasn’t in the gallery, he is just like any other person. IO

The answer is yes, if you want to stay in the gallery. Galleries are having a tough time. If not for the person seeing your work there, chances are you wouldn’t have the sale. I’m assuming you’ve also priced your work to account for the commission so you absolutely should not lower the price to undercut the gallery. I question people carefully who come to my studio. If they have set foot in the local gallery where I have my work, the gallery gets the commission. The other gallery is 3 hours away and chances are they haven’t been there but I still ask. MF

In a word, yes. Although the gallery may not have had a hand in this sale, using the gallery’s resources and patrons and not giving them their due is slitting your own throat. Do you want to remain in the gallery? It is unethical to cut out your gallery. I agree that if your sale does not include a gallery patron, and had no contact with this client, then you probably don’t owe anything. But think of how if you have more gallery sales, your work will be featured. I think it is a win win situation to give a gallery a commission. DL

Yes. Maybe not the full amount if it is 50% or more, but I would start out offering at least 20 as a courtesy even without a contract. Unless you don’t care if they go of business or will not show you again because they lost their investment on introducing you. LD

It all depends on the nature of your relationship with the gallery. If it is a commercial gallery that represents you, the answer would be yes – the gallery would expect a commission. If it is any other kind of gallery (non-profit, rental, communal, art association etc.) or you have been showing your work in a venue whose primary focus is on something other than art (restaurant, gift store etc) then probably not – dependent on whatever your agreement with them is. Representation is the key here. Just because a ‘gallery’ shows your work does not necessarily mean they represent you. RB

I generally consider it a territory thing. When I deal with a gallery (rarely) or agent (sometimes) I pay them a basic 10% if I get a commission from within their geographic area (city, region, state, country. etc.). I do this even if they did not have anything to do with me getting the commission. Naturally if they get me the commission I pay them their full commission fee. BP

Let’s not bury our heads in the sand. Artists establish galleries and if it weren’t for ‘us’ galleries wouldn’t exist -bottomline. I do believe in fairness. If a patron decide to buy from the artist, having had a relationship with the artist’s gallery (if represented), then there should be a fair percentage given to the gallery -provided the gallery has proven it’s commitment to promote the artist. But if a patron that is ‘new’, having no affiliation whatsoever with the gallery, purchase directly from the artist, then that is a private sale and should not be controlled by any other entity. RS

We’re talking ethics here. I am both an artist and I have a gallery. If I send a collector of mine over to connect with an artist, then this is someone the artist would only have as a collector because of me. Artists who go behind the back of a gallery (and there are collectors who try this, too, to get discounted prices) are shooting themselves in the foot. MR

4 thoughts on “Gallery Commissions On Outside Sales”

  1. галерея берёт,с художника-50%предоплата,за аренду зала+100%наценка -на цену картины худржника,а продажы НЕТ!галерея НЕ УМЕЕТ ПРОДАВАТЬ картины!это в Таллинне!А как у вас?
    artist Youri Chasov chasoffart@gmail.com

      1. Hi!…galleries can not sell! magrin on painting 100%!payment of rent to the exhibiton galleries,100%.one example,I signed the contract and paid the rent of the exhibition!and found in the gallery have a website!results in sale-0!playos damaged one picture!it in Tallinn! as you?!
        Youri Chasov

        1. It just seems a bad idea, in general, to pay a gallery to show your work. The exception to this is a coop gallery, where every artist there pays a small operating fee. That is how I started.

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