A Guide to Buying Canadian Art Online

By Mark Skeffington

Each month in Canada, more than a thousand artworks are sold online.

Dozens of online art auctions are held from coast to coast, while Canadian art is also listed for sale on various websites, including FineArtCollector.ca.

Photo of computer monitor with type "A Guide to Buying Art Online"

Still, some people are uncomfortable, even skittish, buying a painting, print or Inuit carving they haven’t seen with their own eyes or held in their hands. That feeling is understandable.

After all, a buyer wants to assure himself/herself that the artwork is something they like, is in excellent condition and is authentic before buying.

However, seeing an artwork in person isn’t always possible. If, for example, an etching by master printmaker David Blackwood is for sale online out of Toronto or Calgary, and you live in St. John’s, how are you going to see it in person?

Things to Look For

There are steps an art collector can take to raise their comfort level to buy online successfully.

  1. Photos: Examine the online photos of an artwork listed for sale.
  2. More Photos: Ask for the same or additional photos, preferably in high resolution, to be emailed to you. You can then download and examine them more closely.
  3. Condition Report: Ask for a condition report. Some sellers may only respond with a short response, such as: “The painting is in great shape” or “A visual exam shows nothing out of the ordinary.” Other sellers provide a detailed report describing an artwork’s condition, noting any issues with the image surface, frame, support, etc. Each buyer may have a different comfort level about how much information they want. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions.
  4. Provenance and Authenticity: If an artwork is described as having artist or gallery labels on a painting’s back, you want to see photos of them. Some online sellers will post such pictures but, again, you can request them to be sent to you directly. Other sellers may not post, but still ask for photos. You may also want to ask for more information on the artwork’s history, or provenance. There may be a story behind how the present owner got it – inherited it, bought directly from artist, for example – or there may not be.
  5. Artist Signatures: To help assure yourself that the artwork is genuinely by the artist, ask for a picture of the signature (some works may not be signed but there may be other information or supporting documentation that shows it is genuine). You can usually look up online other artworks by the same artist to compare the signature.

Buying art online doesn’t have to be scary and, in fact, can be rewarding.

More Canadian art is being sold online, and this trend is likely to grow, in step with a general increase in online shopping.


At FineArtCollector.ca, we offer a number of ways to raise the comfort level of buyers, including:

  1. Providing high-quality photos, showing the artwork, signature, frame, and artist and gallery labels (if present).
  2. Providing on request a condition report. If we’re aware of a condition issue or restoration work, we disclose this upfront.
  3. Telling a potential buyer as much information we know about an artwork’s history and provenance.
  4. Providing on request testimonials/references from past clients.
  5. Providing a sales agreement describing the artwork, its condition, provenance and other information.

– FineArtCollector.ca
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