Gallery Commissions On Outside Sales

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.

Take the survey – Should an artist pay a gallery (that shows his work) a commission on work sold directly from the artist to one of the gallery’s patrons?

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


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?


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

If you approached the gallery to sell your work – based on the idea that the gallery had clients, and the ability to reach new clients – and one of the gallery’s clients indeed discovers and then purchases your work because of this relationship you sought out, then of course you own them a commission. Not to do so would be bait and switch on the artist’s part. On the other hand, if a gallery you did not approach acquired one of your works thinking they could sell it and turn a profit, then the transaction is limited to that item. If they feel they could sell more of your work, then it’s the responsibility of the gallery to develop that relationship with the artist, and in the meantime the artist can pursue their career as they choose. CM

No, and more importantly, NO! The gallery exists as a retail-like clearing house for the artist by providing the artist with the one thing they can’t do easily, find large, ready made markets that guarantee exposure and increase the possibility of sales. The artist understands that there will be a fee in place because of the availability, necessity, convenience and value of this service. This fee is the commission, the one and only fee that covers everything. TM

If A gallery does nothing, except hanging your picture on the wall without even framing (no representation, show, etc.,), they have no right to ask for “loyalty”. YT

If a customer goes directly to an artist months or years after seeing the work in a gallery because he remembers the work and wants something unique, I could see not giving the gallery a commission, especially if the artist is no longer working with the gallery. SG

If you have a gallery you shouldn’t sell out of your studio!!! Better send them to your gallery, that way the gallery will invest in their artist. Its take a long time to make a artist well known!! UL

I negotiate in good faith to put an agreement in writing that uses normal, simple and concise language to describe the professional artist/gallery relationship and rights of both parties. I agree with the statements that artists are guided by ethics when making sales outside the gallery when the agreement is not written and clear: a collector who contacts me because of a desire for a better deal than the gallery, is referred back to the gallery. BC

Most not-top-end galleries will have a ‘referral’ level of commission for cases like this, particularly for commissions or new works not actually shown at their gallery. I usually have a 10-20% commission agreed with agents for these types of situations but I also judge it based on which works, and if they were works that hung at the gallery or not, and what kind of ‘after show’ terms we have if any. TM

Yes, but not the 40 or 50% the gallery usually takes since no work of the gallery is involved. If the artist paints in watercolours, the gallery makes money on the framing of the artist’s work if it is framed there. I stopped painting in watercolours because the gallery made more money on my paintings than I did. I’m painting now on gallery canvas and if someone wants to frame it afterwards, they are welcome. ED

Customers often try to do an end run around the galleries by going direct to the artists. They are often cavalier enough to boast to the dealer that they were able to get a better deal by buying at the studio. All this to say that sooner or later a dealer always finds out about studio sales, so honesty is indeed the best policy. ML

Absolutely ! I have owned three galleries over the years. Any artist that would sell any art direct to MY client without my knowledge gets kicked out, as the client ALWAYS tells the gallery sooner or later. Honor and integrity is what art needs to be about…..NOT about a few bucks !! MC

I have paid my galleries a pretty hefty price in commission considering I have done most of the heavy lifting, spending hours creating a piece, doing all the physical grunt work that goes into a large bronze, shipping, self marketing, and all the stuff in fine print so to speak. Then to see that the gallery does nothing more than place my art on a shelf. A customer walks in and buys the piece. I am finding it harder and harder to swallow that I should be beholden to the gallery for the rest of my artistic life. AS

The gallery could well expect a commission but the short answer is no. What I sell in Vegas stays in Vegas. LM

yes the artist should pay a commission to the gallery. why? because the gallery and the artist work together to achieve results, the gallery is a great stamp of recognition of the work and spends a great deal of money representing its artists. When you decide to work with a gallery you work with it. you tell the client to talk to your dealer/gallery. SM

The main asset a gallery has is its client base. That’s why most commercial galleries have a contract which says that if one of their clients – having become acquainted with your work through the gallery – comes to you independently (ie bypassing the gallery) then you have to refer them back to the gallery and/or any work is also subject to a fee. Your commission is about being introduced to their client base – not just whether the work sold in their gallery. KT

Having run a gallery for over 30 years, I must say the gallery world has changed. Clients will go on their cell phones and look up the artists I am representing right in front of me! They are intent on getting pieces cheaper from the artists and we have more and more people thinking they will use our gallery just to find artists whose work they like. That does not keep a gallery’s doors open. It is a sad trend and what is worse, I am not sure they even bother getting in touch with the artists once they walk out the door- it is a lose/lose situation for all of us! AD

With out any question the gallery deserves its commission. If not for the gallery the artist would have never met the client. Many clients are unscrupulous and try to pay a lower price by going directly to artists. This has two specific negative factors, one it devaluates the price of your work, and two it ruins your business partnership with the gallery. SL

Personally, I feel that at the higher commissions these days, should a collector find out how to find an artist, and they go directly to that artist…the artist OWES something to the gallery, but not 50%! After all, the sales effort and time spent, is NOW coming from the artist… the gallery did not have one ounce of time invested in this one sale. EB

I think the question of whose sale it is becomes moot if galleries sell artists instead of pieces of art. The mall-gallery is not selling the artist, it’s at best selling art and maybe just selling wall space to artists. Loyalty to these types of galleries are much more superficial than representation contracts with high-end galleries. MA

Family should always be given special consideration but they must also understand that if we have made a commitment to a gallery then they will have to wait or choose another piece. Secondly NEVER pay a gallery to show your work. You pay a commission on work they sell. If you pay a gallery to show your work that’s how they make their money and they couldn’t give a rats butt whether they sell or not. RL

Although it is tempting to sell direct to a client, as a lot of artist often react out of pride or necessity, most fail to understand, you and the gallery are running individual businesses but need each other. I do not sign contracts with galleries and I deal with some very high end ones. However, I understand that the collectors a gallery has fostered, perhaps over many years are respectfully their contacts. If you want to show in high end galleries you will learn that you never begrudge a salesperson. BL

This is the difference between hobbyist and professional artist in my book. The professionals understand the value of gallery representation. RW

Now the question is, “should the gallery’s percentage be the same if the work were not taking up space in the gallery, or shown on the gallery’s website?” I think not, and that one might try negotiating a reduction with the gallery when first signing on. JV

Absolutely not. If the piece is NOT displayed in the gallery and somebody bought from You – good for You. Gallery should take commission ONLY from the pieces existing in the gallery. Otherwise we will escalate ‘dependency’ syndrome, ‘being constantly in the pocket’. This will reduce artists trust and happiness and ability to create and ability for all of us to be generous. What is in gallery – is gallery + artist’s property. What is OUT of gallery is simple: artist’s property. JS

Am I to understand that many galleries expect artists to hand over their entire contact list? And as it grows? Gold that is. If this is true and if each artist hands over 500 contacts and the gallery has 60 artists, that’s 30,000 contacts. That’s a lot of contacts.
Which brings us back to the commission thing. If the gallery is in total control of the artist’s contact list (past, present and future via contract) and the artist has found a new patron, the gallery is owed the commission since the patron belongs to the gallery ipso facto. Is this correct? AW

Since a gallery owes loyalty to more than one artist, it seems fair than an artist is also represented by more than one gallery. Isn’t it? Unless the gallery is willing to buy all the work he is able to produce. IG

I do see that it’s critical that artists are able to tap all possible revenue sources. So an artist either has be be able to contract with multiple galleries, markets, and representation; or with an umbrella(my terminology) gallery that brokers all their work. MA

The referral fee should be considerably less than the usual gallery commission, because I am doing the work of selling. It makes good business sense for everyone to help the gallery to stay in business. Cutting them out of a small fee is short sighted and is the wrong thing to do. DT

if you have a written contract with the gallery, you cannot do it. But if you don’t then it is OK. CC

YES, certainly extend a percentage. The value of the artwork is enhanced by the relationship to the gallery, the reputation of the gallerist, the fact that the work is embedded in a place and time and connected to a particular culture. Whether a six page written contract or a verbal understanding, a % of a studio sale is in order. JW

If the painting leaves the gallery, and is in the artists possession, the gallery has nothing to say about it. While it is on the gallery walls, just go by the rules, the gallery deserves to earn money too. CL

If you are not paying any type of representation fee to the gallery – then you should give them half the normal commission because it is their collector that was introduced to you and your work. NP

I would give the gallery a finder’s fee for initiating the contact. I’d do that as a gesture. That said any future work(s) purchased by that client or by a referral from that client would not. RB

If someone wants to buy something they saw on the website, even if it’s in a show at the time, it doesn’t seem right that the gallery would get a commission. TA

Years ago, I made the mistake of accepting a commission from an art consultant, who had seen one of my paintings in a gallery. When the gallery owner found out, he hit the ceiling! After speaking with a couple of more experienced gallery artists, I realized that the gallery that displays my work to the public should have his cut. It’s the ethical thing to do. CE

The first time a collector commissions a piece from the gallery that represents me, I pay a commission to the gallery. Any sale to the same buyer after that does not warrant a commission to the gallery. CE

If they are wanting to purchase something the gallery hasn’t seen or commission an original new piece from your studio then that has nothing to do with the gallery. AV

MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at

5 Responses

  1. Youri Chasov says:

    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

    • I’m sorry Youri, my Google translator can’t seem to put your comment in English enough so I can really get what you are saying. Please interpret for me!

      • Youri Chasov says:

        Hi!…galleries can not sell! magrin on painting 100%!payment of rent to the exhibiton galleries, 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

        • 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.

  2. Ruth says:

    Highly sensitive question.Coming from a biographical point of view in art history it is relationship building with the gallery to discuss why where when your art has come about.Thanks for this debate,I seriously have some gallery interests where the work is priceless related to biographical history yet its contradictory ………galleries need those vital discussion points as mentioned and the artist has to create some value from this,in terms of capital gain and ongoing pathways.

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