What Does An “Appraisal” Really Mean?


The term “art appraiser” only gained popularity in the 20th century. In the past, specialists did not appraise an object; instead, they gave their expertise. This change in semantics signaled a shift in the art and antiques appraisal world from a focus on connoisseurship toward an emphasis on the long-term financial value of an object.

Though the term “art appraisal” sounds technical, it’s simply a logical opinion of an object’s monetary value supported by recent sales in the current market. At Lofty, we provide Professional Opinions of Value for the purpose of sale. When pricing the items on our site, our experts stick to Fair Market Value, meaning a fair price for both buyer and seller in the current market.

How is Fair Market Value determined? Lofty’s experts use the most common appraisal method: the sales comparison approach. Here, an appraiser compares the subject work (artwork or object being appraised) to similar artworks that were sold within a given time period in the appropriate marketplace, called “comparable sales.” Comparable sales data is provided by an appraiser as evidence that the value they’ve given the subject work is reasonable and logical in the appropriate market.

Experts have an easier time forming an opinion of value for artworks from an edition, including many sculptures and prints, because when multiples exist, there is a higher probability that a sale of a directly similar item can be located. Finding comparable sales data for a uniquely complex item such as a painting can be challenging. When sales of directly similar works do not exist, the appraiser must analyze points of similarity between sales of several comparable artworks and the subject work to construct a logical statement of value. The appraiser’s goal is to use sales of works that are as closely related to the subject work as possible; points of similarity to consider include medium, exhibition history, condition, provenance, dimensions, date of execution, the work’s place in an artist’s oeuvre, the artist’s fame, and the work’s relevance to the history of art.

Because it’s often not clear exactly which sales are most relevant without a thorough knowledge of a particular artist’s market, the best experts are knowledgeable about both the financial value of an item and its historical value, thereby providing both “expertise” and “appraisal” of an object.