Thursday, June 03, 2021

Pricing a marine artwork & RSMA Annual Exhibition Metrics

This is about the sales of artwork - by members and non-members - and the average prices achieved in each price band at the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition 2020. Plus what can be deduced from these numbers when pricing an entry in 2021.

It follows on from

I've written extensively on the topic of pricing How to price your art (on this blog and Art Business Info for Artists) and I'm writing this post about pricing because:

  • it's unusual for artists to review and analyse how much art sold for (as opposed to what prices were asked)
  • to provide a more practical context for how they should set their own prices

This post 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 sales - in different price bands - for both members and non-members.

Why artists need better advice and guidance about pricing

I've thought for some time that there ought to be clearer guidelines on pricing given to artists entering open exhibitions and art competitions.

I'd really fed up of seeing silly prices - and good artwork hanging on a wall unsold. 

To my mind this is:

  • Either a failure of marketing (i.e. the right people are not attending the exhibition)
  • Or pricing by member artists - despite past trends on sales and prices in annual exhibitions (assuming they get such data) i.e. are they not told or do they ignore the data?
  • Or failure to provide good guidance to artists submitting to an open exhibition / art competition via the open entry. Many artists need useful guidelines for pricing their artwork

Why I write about pricing and have written this post

One way or another, obvious failures for artists to price effectively needs to be addressed - and this post is by way of me "doing my bit".  

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 also need to bear in mind that I'm an ex-Finance Director and analyst who likes crunching numbers!

I'm also probably the ONLY independent person in the UK who 

  • regularly monitors prices and sales of art
  • across both national art societies and major art competitions 
  • provides feedback on such pricing to artists aspiring to develop a professional career.

You can read more about pricing art on


One reason artwork does not sell is price

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. Presumably with a view to marketing commissions - but if they're not doing that either, then it's an expensive use of space.

The reason good to great artworks do not sell, in my view, is primarily often down to how they've been priced - and whether pricing decisions were well-informed.

One of the factors critical to sales is the marketplace the exhibition is taking place in. A marketplace can be defined by the characteristics it exhibits as to ceiling prices and what sort of work sells.  


RSMA Annual Exhibition Metrics 2020 - Sales and Pricing

This is a partial view only of the metrics for sales at the RSMA Annual Exhibition in 2020. The numbers available can be sliced and diced in various ways.

The Chart and Table BELOW show the number of artworks sold in different price bands.

The numbers are derived from the online exhibition and the sales recorded on the Exhibition Page on the Mall Galleries website

  • Given there was no catalogue last year, this is the only visible record of artwork in the exhibition. 
  • You can still see the 2020 artworks - with details of medium, size and prices - on the Mall Galleries website - and which ones sold!
RSMA 2020: Chart of member (dark blue) and nonmember (pale blue)
sales of artworks across different price bands

  • Average prices for each price band are show in the table below - along with the figures for number of sales for members and non-members. 
  • The percentage column indicates how the NUMBER sales within price bands contributed to total sales - in a cumulative basis. 
  • The latter is NOT the same as how sales within each band contributed to the total value of sales made.
RSMA 2020: Number of sales and average price across different price bands
Plus how each price band cumulatively contributed to total sales (Numbers only)
The Table ABOVE indicates
  • sales decline as prices get above £1k. It's a critical price hurdle for affordability.
  • Non-members generated over one third (36%) of the sales - in percentage terms (of artworks in the show) more art is sold by non-members than members
  • just under a third sold for less than £500 - I have been known to comment to various Art Society Presidents, in recent times, that they need to be very mindful that work under £500 seems to walk off the walls! Most artwork priced under £500 sells well at most exhibitions at the Mall Galleries. However, it's not just any old artwork - a mistake many members made when they realised small works sell. Many of the sales are good paintings, often by non-members. I've noted that members who have noticed the quality of the art which sells have upped their game in this price bracket! I see fewer "quickie" sketches and "not very finished" small paintings in this bracket these days
  • most artworks sold in the price band £500 - £1,000 - which is fairly common for most exhibitions at the Mall Galleries - and it relates to the people who visit the exhibitions. Under a £1,000 means that people know if they use the BUY Art Scheme for monthly payments they may be able to buy this out of normal monthly income - which is what leads to impulse buys!
  • over two-thirds (68%) of sales are for less than £1,000 (I suggest you read that again!) Again these are often impulse buys. People who want to buy art and will buy what they fancy. They're rarely buying for investment - or even because of the name of the artist. They're buying what they like. If you're not selling in this price bracket, you might want to have a think about why people don't like your art - or the colours you use - or the frame you use (which will need to be replaced - adding to the cost) etc.
  • 95% sold for under £2,000 - see my note below when pricing above £2,000.


Crabbers by the Lock Gates, Walberswick by Raymond leach RSMA
a small oil painting which sold for £775
- an excellent example of a marine activity which many have done (including me) at this spot
- Plus excellent and simple painting of people in this context
I'm not in the least bit surprised it sold.

In my view.....

When pricing - ALWAYS keep affordability in mind.   

  • You always need to be mindful of the overall marketplace and whether people have money to spare and whether they are feeling confident or nervous about spending.
  • At the moment, there are lots of people with savings built up due to the pandemic who would very much like to get out and spend - and some will splurge! That said they're not going to be silly - and making art affordable means they won't get an attack of the guilts afterwards

IF you are going to price over £2,000 then you need to have one or more of the following

  • a very good following - where collectors have historically bought your art at this £2k+ price
  • knowledge that your artwork sells on a regular basis
  • knowledge that your collectors are going to attend the exhibition
  • a stunning / quality artwork
  • a marketplace with peple with money to spend

IF you are a member you should never be complacent about price or competition. 

  • You need to be mindful that for some buyers, a value for money agenda dominates decision-making i.e. if they can get a good quality painting by a non-member for a lower price then they may well ignore your work if it's over-priced relative to the competition.
  • If you need to maintain higher prices for artwork which will bring commissions or sell elsewhere (i.e. you view the exhibition as a marketing exercise), you need to consider how it looks if you sell nothing at all.
  • if you need sales to maintain income - but your track record has not been good in recent times, you might well want to review your pricing strategy in the context of the competition.

IF you are an RSMA organising bod, you might want to 

  • have a word with:
    • non-members whose artwork is under-priced - relative to size and quality
    • members whose artwork is over-priced - relative to their past sales history (i.e. check their sales records in previous years)
  • review the numbers of artwork in different price bands before finalising selection. In my view, trying to maximise sales for ALL artists is never ever a bad thing!

With a bit more time and effort it would be possible to calculate:

  • the percentage of artworks in each band that sold
  • the percentage of artwork for each artist that sold

Finally, in terms of pricing, I need to remind you that

  • oil paintings generally sell for more than watercolours - and there's a LOT of oil paintings in this show
  • oil paintings sell much better than acrylic.

My other blog posts on this topic

I've written previously on this topic in these posts

You can also find guidance on pricing on my Art Business Info for Artists website in the How to Price Your Art Section which covers

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