Monday, April 24, 2023

RI Annual Exhibition 2023: Analysis of art sales metrics and pricing artwork for the future

This is my third post about pricing in recent art society exhibitions. Today it's about the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (RI) Annual Open Exhibition 2023 at the Mall Galleries in London in April 2023. 

The exhibition is the biggest exhibition of watercolours in the UK. This is my review of the exhibition Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours Annual Exhibition 2023 in which I indicated I'd be doing this exhibition metrics post after the exhibition had closed.

Sales for this exhibition take place:
  • during the exhibition - to visitors
  • online - before, during and after the exhibition in the Mall Galleries

Below you can find charts I've produced from a lot of careful counting of artworks hung in the exhibition and which ones sold.

Plus some fairly robust comments.....

Exhibition Metrics: Artwork Exhibited and Artworks Sold

The purpose of the post is to illustrate some points about pricing which I've been making for some time - which are again underlined by the results I got from my analysis

This post considers three aspects
  • the number of artworks exhibited and sold in each price range - analysed between member and non-member artworks
  • observations on sales - in different price bands - for both members and non-members.
  • pricing lessons for:
    • the RI and Mall Galleries
    • member artists
    • artists selected via the open entry - when entering in 2024.
My charts reveal
  • which are the most popular price bands for sales.
  • which price bands have the most unsold work!

There are a number of important points - about which I'll comment more below - which, in summary are:

  • Price point hurdles are VERY important determinants of sale 
  • Affordable art sells well
  • There's an effective ceiling limit at the Mall Galleries - above which few artworks will sell
  • Excessive prices rarely generate sales for unknown artists - you need to be aware of the audience an exhibition attracts
  • Expensive artworks are harder to sell during a period of economic uncertainty

All/any pricing ALWAYS needs to take economic context into account. This is particularly relevant to some members who normally sell and sold no work in this exhibition.

I'm uploading larger versions of my pricing/sales charts to a post about them on my Facebook Page.


  • 449 artworks were selected for hanging in the exhibition
  • 68 artworks sold - represented 18% of the artwork hung
  • open artists sold more artwork than RI members
    • 40 by RI members (17% of artwork hung)
    • 43 by artists selected from the Open Entry (20% of artwork hung)
  • most sales were for less than £1,500 - which has been a really important hurdle price for a very long time.
[NOTE: This post has been corrected for an error I made which I spotted this morning in the comments immediately after the first chart - and updated.] 

What proportion of artwork sold - across different price ranges?

Two price ranges saw the most sales - and there were few sales after £1,500

RI Annual Exhibition 2023
Comparison of total numbers of artworks sold and exhibited

  • Under £500: 36% of artworks hung sold - and most of these relate to small/smaller artworks by open entrants
  • £501-£750: 24% of artwork hung sold - again mostly in relation to smaller artworks
This is not untypical of what happens in an economic context of uncertainty such as 
  • the current cost of living crisis and 
  • concern around increases in interest rates - which has NOT abated (i.e. this applies to all upcoming exhibitions too)
Exactly the same thing happened when we had the banking crisis in 2008 - which is when I started monitoring prices and sales. Sales were much better at the "affordable art" end and basically sales crashed among the more expensive price ranges. Interestingly I could spot established artists on the wall who had learned the hard lessons of 2008 and adjusted what they submitted accordingly. (In 2009 we had a LOT of "play it safe during the recession" exhibitions and this is what I've been expecting to see this year)

Other observations which can be made are:
  • the first four price ranges have a similar number of artworks hung
  • however the number of sales in the first four price ranges DIMINISH as the price rises
  • after £1500 (a VERY important price hurdle observed by me in numerous FBA exhibitions)
    • the numbers of artworks hung drop off dramatically
    • the drop in sales is even more dramatic
    • only 6 artworks sold above £1500
  • nobody sold above £5,000
I am absolutely certain there are artists who would have sold or sold more if they'd had better information about 
  • how sales work relative to prices in these galleries - and 
  • how best to price in relation to price hurdles
  • how best to price in a time of economic uncertainty

What are the price hurdles?

The price hurdles are those prices which are symbolic of a major jump into a new category of spending.
They are:
  • based on perception and psychology 
  • have nothing to do with value and 
  • are unaffected by price inflation and currency (eg the same numbers apply within $ marketplaces).
The price hurdle represents the level at which you have to stop and think long and hard and hence:
  • being spontaneous in your buying stops 
  • you have to choose not to do something else you had planned
  • you need to think about other resources you can bring to bear on your buying decision (eg discounts / vouchers / payment plans)
  • you have to think longer before you buy - including leaving the gallery - and accept the  risk of not being able to buy. (I call it "research" when I do this!)
The important price hurdles at the Mall Galleries (observed over many years and very many different exhibitions) are:
  • £500
  • £750
  • £1,000
  • £1,500
  • £2,500 / £3,000 (this one wavers)
  • £5,000
  • £10,000 etc
Think about when you shop for ordinary commodities. There's a reason why houses sell for £50 less than a really big sum and why small commodities sell for 49p or £19.99.

ALWAYS price just below a price hurdle, never ever just above it - unless you have lots of fans who love your work and buy it.

NOTE: For the benefit of those who think raising the MINIMUM price artwork can be exhibited at is a good idea. It doesn't work. The price hurdle will remain and artists, art societies and art galleries will only lose sales and associated income. It is totally the wrong thing to do during a period of economic uncertainty - it reduces rather than increases sales.

Who sells the most artwork in each price range?

Members do not always sell more artwork than artists selected through the open entry - although one would expect this would be the case

This year open artists sold more artwork than RI members - both numerically and in percentage of the artwork hung on the wall
  • RI members sold 40 paintings / 17% of their artwork - mainly because it's currently much harder to sell more expensive artworks. If they had adjusted for context, I'm sure they'd have sold more.
  • Open artists sold 43 paintings / 20% of their artwork
In the RI Annual Exhibition 2023:
  • AFFORDABLE ART continues to be very popular with those visiting the exhibition and the website. 
    • 60% of sales occurred AT OR BELOW £750. 
  • MORE EXPENSIVE ARTWORK (priced above £2,500) is NOT popular. This is due to the current context of economic uncertainty. I've watched price patterns in these galleries for the last 17 years and it happens every time uncertainty increases.
    • Only two sales were priced in excess of £2,500
    • only four sales were priced in excess of £2,000
    • Only six sales were prices in excess of £1,500
  • RI members outsold open entrants in 4 of the price ranges (£501-£750; £1001-£1500; £1500-£2000 and £2501-£5000)
  • members and open entrants had the same sales in two categories (upto £500; £2000-£2500)
  • open entrants sold more than RI members in the third most popular price range for sales (£751-£1000)

Comparison of numbers of artworks sold by RI members and open entrants
in each price range

How does this compare to the last time I did this exercise in 2019?

Below is the chart from my 2019 blog post Pricing a Watercolour & RI Annual Exhibition Metrics. This indicates that:
  • there were more sales by members in 2023 - 40 compared to 33
  • there were fewer sales by members in the under £1000 price ranges
  • there were a LOT more sales by open entrants in in 2023 - 43 compared to 27. Maybe because they're much more focused on affordable art?

RI Annual Exhibition 2019
Comparison of numbers of artworks sold by RI members and open entrants
in each price range

How did RI members do in 2023?

The chart below relates purely to the artworks hung by members and the sales they achieve.

RI Members' artwork in RI Annual Exhibition 2023
Comparison of price ranges for RI member sales and artwork exhibited

In summary:

  • there are two very popular price ranges £500-£750 and £1000-£1500. Otherwise pricing is a bit all over the place
  • RI members did not take advantage of the fact that the most popular price range with buyers is under £500
  • there may well be some overpricing within the £751-£1000 price range given sales drop off. Having said that, there was at least one RWS watercolour painter exhibiting at the RBA Exhibition who has sold in this price range for years - and always sells well. But her medium sized artwork is exquisite....

Cost of Living and Inflation

It's my belief more members would have sold more artwork with better information about pricing. 

The tendency to think you can inflate prices during a cost of living crisis - because of overall inflation - can come badly unstuck if you forget that the same crisis means there are more people around with less disposable income

I'm inclined to think artists did not think long and hard about whether they would sell more if they raised prices rather than just pricing as they always have - or maybe even dropping their prices for smaller works

What this chart does not tell you is that:

  • some members did not sell any of their artwork. It rather undermines the artist, the society and the art gallery when this happens - and an explanation could usefully be sought for why this might be. This includes a number who have sold well in the past - but not cheaply.
  • RI members who have previously sold large artworks did not sell well in this exhibition
In my opinion, the number of sales probably has a lot to do with how good individual members are at marketing their art.

For example, Past President Rosa Sepple commented to me that she rarely sells well at RI Exhibitions because of the price of her paintings. However Rosa is also somebody who has sold thousands of her paintings over the years and is the ONLY FBA member I know who has hired the West Gallery for herself and had a nearly sell out exhibition - see Rosa Sepple sells 50+ paintings in 4 days! That's ONE artist selling nearly as many works as an entire RI Exhibition and more than all the RI members combined in 2023!!

This suggests to me that the RI needs to help train its members in effective methods for:
  • being more businesslike
  • pricing artwork
  • developing a following
  • marketing artwork in advance of an exhibition.

How did artists selected via the Open Entry do?

Open Entrants' artwork in RI Annual Exhibition 2023
Comparison of price ranges for sales and artwork exhibited
by artists selected from OPEN ENTRY

The chart above has a number of important messages
  • nobody who priced above £1,500 sold their artwork at this exhibition - except for one artist
  • AFFORDABLE ART: 60% of artwork sold by those artists selected from the Open Entry was priced below £750
  • EXPENSIVE ART: absolutely nobody sold above £2,500
  • VERY IMPORTANT PRICE HURDLE: only one artist sold above the critically important price hurdle at the Mall Galleries of £1,500. This suggests there's a LOT of artists who are very uninformed about the prices of works which sell and/or pricing in general and/or overvaluing. Hence there are a significant number who are not pricing their work to sell.

The future

There's a couple of important things the RI might like to take into account for the future:
  • when considering artists as candidates for members - questions need to be asked about  whether that candidate has a good track record in sales.
  • when considering exhibition sale records - questions need to be asked about whether better choices could have been made by those members who sold nothing about:
    • the artwork they hung
    • the prices they charged
It's all very well saying that the quality of the artwork is the only thing that matters - but this simply isn't true!

Art Societies only exist because back in the nineteenth century somebody had the bright idea that groups of artists holding exhibitions would probably help all those participating sell their art. i.e. there is a reason why most open exhibitions state that ALL ARTWORK MUST BE FOR SALE.

Ultimately Art Societies should be about achieving SALES (and thereby income) for 
  • their member artists, 
  • their aspiring artist members, 
  • their Art Society and 
  • the Galleries in which they hold their exhibitions. 
That's because if they do NOT get it right they:
  • won't be artists with sales and will need another source of income
  • won't be holding exhibitions to both show and sell art
  • might have to find another place to exhibit in order to cut costs
  • etc etc etc
The question I'm asking right now is whether the artwork is really for sale if it's not priced right......

Other pricing posts & more information about pricing art

Pricing posts about the RI

Pricing Posts - other art societies and open exhibitions

Advice about Pricing Art

Many readers will know this already - but for those who don't....

I have a very big section on How to Price Your Art in the Money & Tax section of my Art Business Info for Artists website.

It includes sections on:

If you read just one, go for the last one.

Ignore "price hurdles" in relation to affordable art at your peril!
Take account of them and you will sell a LOT more art!

No comments:

Post a Comment

COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.