Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Pricing a Watercolour & RI Annual Exhibition Metrics

The annual exhibition by the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours is the largest exhibition of watercolour paintings in the UK every year. 

It's also on for a decent length of time so it seemed very suitable to test my theory on pricing art prior to writing up of my proposed blog post on how artists are pricing themselves out of sales (COMING SOON)

This post covers the exhibition metrics (relevant performance data) for the 2019 Annual Exhibition:
  • how open is this open exhibition - the ratio of members to non-members
  • how well watercolour artwork has sold - with specific reference to price bands.

An Open Annual Exhibition

This is a proper OPEN EXHIBITION - and I recommend it to aspiring artists working in watercolours.
  • 411 artworks were exhibited. Of these
    • 249 are members (61% of artists)
    • 162 are non-members (39%). 
  • 166 artists exhibited. Of these:
    • 50 were members (of the current total of 53 members)
    • 4 were deceased members
    • 112 were non-members selected from the open entry
The average number of paintings hung were
  • Members: 4.9 paintings
  • Deceased members: 1 painting each
  • Non-members: 1.4 paintings
    • Most non-members have just one and sometimes two paintings in the exhibition. 
    • Only those who have applied to be a candidate for membership have more than two paintings in the exhibition
It's also an exhibition which had c. 7,000 visitors and hence a huge number of people looking at paintings during the course of the exhibition.  Mind you I think a lot aspire to be in the exhibition! 

Pricing a Watercolour 

One of the reasons why I'm going to write about pricing is I like to see artists do well - and sell their art.You can read more about pricing on my Art Business Info website - see
I often see excellent artworks in exhibitions at the Mall Galleries (both art competitions and art societies) entered by those who were selected from the Open Entry which do not sell.

I also see paintings by members which are 'adorning the wall' but not selling because they are overpriced for the venue and the audience.

The reason excellent artworks do not sell, in my view, is primarily down to how they've been priced.

This section considers three aspects
  • the number of artworks sold in each price range - analysed between member and non-member artworks
  • pricing lessons for artists selected via the open entry
  • observations on member artist sales

Number of artworks sold in each price range

To start trying to explain my theories on pricing (which I've held for some time) I decided to test them by monitoring all sales being recorded on the Mall Galleries website for all those paintings which had a digital image on the website.

I did three checks
  • after the preview and the first couple of days of being open to sales IN THE GALLERY (which is the period when most sales are generally made). These sales also included all those sales made online before the exhibition opened.
  • a week later 
  • on the final day
There were quite a lot of sales at the beginning and, interestingly, more sales in the final week than I was expecting towards the end - but sales slowed in the middle of the exhibition.

All the paintings I liked and expected to sell sold - bar a couple (however they may have sold but were not online or not updated online).

All the paintings I knew were overpriced did not sell.  

In total 76 paintings sold - 49 by members and 27 by open entrants.  
The chart below records sales results for 60 sales recorded online (33 by members and 27 by non-members).

Chart of all sales recorded online at the RI Annual Exhibition 2019
  • Two thirds of sold paintings by members and ALL the sold paintings by non-members are included in the above chart
  • Non-members dominate the under £500 category. (Members often overprice their small paintings!)
  • Above £500 RI members typically dominated sales
  • Two-thirds of the 60 sales I recorded sold for less than £1,000 - 19 by RI members and 20 by non-members
  • Sales priced above £1,500 drop dramatically as a percentage of the total.
  • Very few paintings sell for more than £3,000 - unless they have a strong following and/or fans with a big wallet.
  • £1,500 is a significant price hurdle for watercolours - Three women and one man who all sold well all kept their prices below £1,500.

Pricing lessons for selected artists via the open entry

Key points:
  • Inexperienced artists who are ignorant of market prices often overprice. 
  • Most non-members' paintings sell for less than £1,000
  • Very few watercolour artists sell paintings for more than £3,000 at the Mall Galleries. Those that do have a strong following and/or paint excellent large watercolours
  • Watercolours in general cannot compete with the price of oil paintings and should be priced accordingly. 

Issues for pricing:
  • Unfamiliarity with the exhibition affects pricing. This is an exhibition which attracts entries from all over the country. However not every artist who enters via the open entry has been to the exhibition previously. It's very probably the case that most have not analysed pricing and sales. In addition, seeing overpriced paintings in exhibitions can lead people to think this is the price for this type of painting in this type of market. However the only prices worth taking note of are those associated with paintings which sell.
  • Inexperience and ignorance can be addressed. You can gauge prices and learn about markets for specific types of paintings by visiting an exhibition near the end and making a note of what does sell - and what doesn't.  Now you can even monitor as I did via the online version of the exhibition - so there's now no excuse for provincial and parochial "pricing blindness". 
  • The mythical "London premium" is often used by provincial artists. They loading their prices with "a London premium" of their choosing which has generally been arrived at after inadequate market research. These artists generally don't sell. 
  • Those who aspire to be members will not impress if they do not sell.
  • Artists should always keep their prices more or less consistent wherever they are selling.
  • The acrylic confusion: One of the issues that causes confusion in watercolour exhibitions is when painters in water colours who use acrylic paints price their watercolours more like oil paintings. However an exhibition of watercolours attracts collectors who pay watercolour prices. 

Member artist sales

Key points:
  • Members would be well advised to look at how those artists who sell well price their art (see below)
  • Those who sold well know their market/followers and did not over price
  • All stayed below a threshold price - rather than pricing just above it
  • The number of sales sales drop dramatically above £1,500 - except for those with a strong following

RI Members who sold well were:
  • Lilias August (still life collections) - 3 paintings + silent auction painting
  • Vasha Bhatia (realistic architectural paintings of prominent / important buildings) - 4 paintings
  • Lisa Graa Jensen (fantasised landscapes) - 3 paintings
  • Rosa Sepple (large / expensive fantasy maritime painting) - 1 painting
  • Ian Sidaway (graphic stylised trees in landscapes) - 3 paintings
  • Shirley Trevena (loosely painted unconventional floral still lifes) - 4 paintings
  • Geoffrey Wynne (colourful paintings of international scenes) - 3 paintings
I only realised at the end that the Mall Galleries website only hosted virtual images of some two thirds of sales of member artworks in the exhibition. Presumably this is because some members failed to supply a digital image of their artwork to the organisers of the virtual online exhibition.

This is a pity - because like other prominent galleries - a number of sales took place in advance of the exhibition opening.

However members cannot sell their artwork to people viewing online if their artwork is not online!

It appeared to me that a significant number of members had no sales - including artists who have sold regularly in the past. However I can only be certain about that for those artists who had ALL their artworks online - and not all did.

Pricing / sales lessons for art societies and galleries

Clearly there's a lot of artists who need an education on pricing for exhibitions at the Mall Galleries - and that notion may well include art society members as well as non-members.

I think there's a case for art societies to act more like the David Shepherd Foundation's Wildlife Artist of the Year Exhibition.
  • That exhibition aims to raise funds for charity (conservation of wild animals) 
  • Consequently it also aims to maximise sales. 
  • It therefore reserves the right to suggest an artist revises their price to make it more likely to sell. 
  • As I understand it the way it works is if the artist won't budge then the artwork may not be exhibited.
I'd suggest serious consideration is given by FBA societies to the introduction of an EXTRA FILTER  (i.e. Is the price realistic?) when selecting artwork for an open exhibition - and the society should challenge artists as to whether this is a price they have achieved in the past.

Introducing a "price check" for realism may net more sales - and more commission even if the artworks are priced lower.

After all an over-priced artwork that does not sell is a net loss to:
  • a gallery which loses on commission through no sale - and the opportunity cost of selling other artwork which might well sell
  • an art society which wants to help artists in general to do well
  • an artist who has paid for transport, framing etc 
  • an artist's career. It's all very well seeing selection for a national art society exhibition as a pathway to getting a gallery - but all galleries are interested in (after they have assessed whether your art makes the grade / fills a gap) is whether or not you are already generating sales i.e. are people interested in your work when it is realistically priced!
Pricing to sell is a really good strategy for a long term career.

In terms of overall sales I think the Mall Galleries could promote the Own Art scheme better. The majority of those attending exhibitions are people who want to buy art if it is affordable.

I think if more people realised they could buy art for 10 equal payments then more people would buy art.


How to Price Art - on my art business info website - includes the following topics:
Plus don't forget to complete the poll about pricing. Note you are not alone if you need to learn more about pricing.

The Poll on my website

ARCHIVE: RI Annual Exhibition 2007-2018

The purpose of this video isn't to give you an in-depth view of all the paintings so much as to give you:an idea of the overall size of the exhibition
a notion of how big the paintings are that get selected via the open entry
a view of the paintings that were selected this year

This exhibition has always been very popular with the provincial art societies whose members arrive in droves - on coaches!




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