Friday Tips: Consigning Your Work / Gallery Percentages


Photo Courtesy Laughing Squid

Once you’re in a gallery, the consignment agreement should be a straightforward, no-nonsense aspect of the arrangement.  Normally it goes like this: 

The director agrees to take your work.  You consign perhaps six pieces to her.  You deliver the work, and she prints out and signs a consignment sheet for you.  My consignment sheets generally read as follows:

 To Whom it May Concern:
 This is to confirm that Donna Quackenbush, artist, has consigned to  Leopold Gallery the following oil paintings:

“Sur Le Pont,”  36 x 48,  $3000

“Ornamental Wind,”  36 x 44,  $2700

“Remain in Light,”  28 x 36,  $2300
“Petra,” 28 x 36, $2300

These paintings are consigned for a minimum of 12 weeks from the above date.  The paintings listed will be insured for their appraised worth against loss or damage for any reason whatever by Leopold Gallery during the period of exhibition.  Leopold Gallery will receive a commission of 50% of gross on any sales that are made during the period of consignment, or as a result of exposure that Donna Quackenbush received therefrom, or from any insurance claim.

Artist will be paid within 30 days of each sale, or any insurance claims.

With sufficiency acknowledged, I sign my name in good faith.
Paul Dorrell                                    Donna Quackenbush
Director                                         Artist


Note that the sheet lists the title, size and price of each work.  It also lists the commission charged, and the fact that insuring the pieces is my responsibility.  This should always be the gallery’s responsibility, even for fools who are so broke that they allow their insurance to lapse (as I did before the ’97 fire).

Regarding percentages, I charge varying commissions on works in varying media, as listed below.

Blown Glass…………………….40%
Steel Sculpture…………………40%
Ceramic Sculpture……………..40%
Bronze Sculpture………………33%

In most galleries, you’ll find it is standard to charge painters a 50% commission.  If the prices on the works are high enough, both you and the gallery will make a sufficient profit.  If your frames are inordinately expensive, perhaps the gallery will split the cost of these with you, but don’t count on it.  Galleries have enough overhead as it is; better to simply figure the cost of the frame into the price of the painting, and make your profit after.

Why do I charge only 40% for steel, glass and ceramic sculpture?  Because expenses for these artists are far greater than for painters; I feel it would be unfair to charge them the same commission.  Some galleries agree with this, most do not.  In fact most charge a straight 50% to all their artists, regardless of medium or studio expenses.  I wish I could do this, but in good conscience I cannot.   

My reasons for charging a 33% commission on bronzes are, again, based on the artist’s expenses, since expenses are extremely high for bronze sculptors, due to the cost of mold-making and casting.  I can’t ignore this condition, and so simply decided to work with it.  Therefore, the formula we employ in determining the retail price of a bronze is simply to multiply casting fees by three.  Thus if a bronze costs $1000 to cast, I sell it for $3000, plus $200 for the marble base, bringing the total to $3200.  After selling the piece I retain $1000, and the artist gets $2200, $1200 of which will go into casting and basing the next piece.

The percentages work differently with commissioned, one-of-a-kind pieces, which I will discuss in Chapter Seven of the book.  I can blog about that another time.  But for now, this discussion of the consignment process and commission percentages should, I hope, prove enlightening.

9 thoughts on “Friday Tips: Consigning Your Work / Gallery Percentages

  1. Hi Paul,
    Great information as usual. I was wondering what your thoughts are on galleries who want the artist to help pay for their receptions? Should this be exclusively handled by the gallery as part of their operating costs or should the artist be expected to contribute?

  2. Casey: There is no one industry standard for this, just as with percentages that galleries charge. In my gallery however, we always pay for the postcards, the mailing, and the vino at the reception. I feel the artists pay for enough, and that since we represent a variety of artists, it’s our job to turn a profit.

    Please just be aware though, this is very difficult to do, since so few people buy original art. It takes constant toil and innovation. It is especially difficult for a new gallery. Those are often the ones that ask artists to share costs, since they often lose money for the first couple of years. If you believe in them, it may be worth it. But in the case of successful galleries turning a healthy profit, I feel they should bear the expense.

    In the end? Individual call.

  3. This is a very useful and informative post. It seems today that many smaller galleries want to take larger commissions and offer very little to the artist. Many are very late to pay and some don’t pay at all. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with galleries that were fair and hard-working but I know many artists who have lost work, had contracts ignored or have waited up to a year to be paid what was owed them. Of course most of them were too poor to follow up with legal action and some of the galleries went out of business. I like your straightforward contract. It’s easy to read and understand and is to the point. I’ve learned not to do business without a contract, which I have to admit originally pained me. I thought being an artist (yes, I’m a child of the 60’s) somehow meant I didn’t have to be that businesslike. Today it is a must. Sorry for all this chat–and thanks for the post!

  4. Warm greetings! Thanks for all the information, a very nice and well done site! Cheers.

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