I recently received the following question from an artist:
What is a reasonable split on commissioned work? I’m all for the gallery receiving 50% on work in their regular inventory, as it takes up wall space and has likely been shown to several potential buyers and marketed by the gallery as well. However, I wonder if 50% to the gallery is justified on a commission, especially in the case where the artist has been put in direct contact with the buyer and essentially does all the leg work (apart from the initial introduction).
Considering that a commission project does not take up gallery “real estate” and also the artist has the burden in materials cost and production time (not to mention risk in some cases), the artist will actually make less money on the project than the gallery if the split is a 50/50. As a former gallery employee I have seen commission splits as 50/50, 60/40 and even 70/30. My personal opinion is that a 70/30 may be a bit lopsided in favor of the artist (unless you’re a high end portrait artist and the split to the gallery is more of a referral fee so to speak), but 50/50 doesn’t seem quite right to me either, again, especially if the artist is doing all the legwork. Your insight would be appreciated!
Name Withheld by Request
Great question. We do ask 50% for commissioned work, but I feel we can justify it because we stay very involved in the process. Rather than just handing off the client to the artist we act as facilitators, scheduling phone calls and meetings, passing along photos and taking care of all of the financial dealings. My artists tell me they appreciate this because it takes away a lot of the pressure and makes the process easier for them. If there are any problems the client is passing them along to us instead of the artist and we can moderate the resolution.
Granted, a lot of galleries do less on commissions and still expect the 50%. In those cases it comes down to what you can come to terms on. If a gallery is a good sales producer for you and you value the relationship, it may still be worth the 50% to help sustain the ongoing representation.
What Do You Think?
Do your galleries ask 50% on commissioned work generated through the gallery? Do you feel they deserve the full fee on commissioned work? Share your thoughts, comments, and experiences in the comments below.
I have been part of a small artist collective gallery where the gallery split is low, but we pay rent. Recently, a designer came in, asked about my work that was hanging, and was given my info because her client wanted a larger painting than my largest shown. The designer commissioned me for a 6ft x 6ft painting, and I went to the gallery owner to pay her our regular commission once I got the deposit. She refused it, asking only that I keep my work in the gallery because she felt it was bringing in high-end clients. Since then, I have sold more paintings, and she is very happy.
My client is also thrilled with the painting, and it’s now in a lovely home in one of those swanky Palm Springs communities.
I fully expected to pay the gallery commission, so I have put aside that amount as funding to continue paying for the wall space.
You have framed the argument correctly. I can see the gallery’s justification- staying involved in the process, acting as facilitators and taking care of the financial dealings. On the other hand, the commission process does not involve the galleries’ real estate, and not necessarily the involvement in the process, as long as the artist and client are both capable of communicating their needs effectively. So the question then becomes, what is the value of that part of the commission that represents finding the client, referring the artist (who is presumably being represented by the dealer anyway), and taking care of the billing? It’s not that there isn’t a precedent for this.
Having made a decent living as an illustrator for many years, Its fairly safe to say that illustrators’ reps typically get a 25% commission for that. Maybe 30% sometimes. So there you go. I think 30% would be justified, but not 50%.
I’ve found 60/40% works best, with the artist receiving 60% on commissions. In most cases, the artist is working with a deadline, is responsible for understanding what the client is looking for, outlining process, doing preliminaries, paying all materials costs and creating the art. I prefer to communicate directly with client or designer, since they have chosen to work with me for their project. However, I direct clients/designers who contact me directly to go through my gallery to begin the commission process. This is a valuable screening process for me, they can see and learn more about my work and invoice/payment goes through the gallery.
If the gallery is showing, promoting, and introducing qualified collectors from their inventory, then 50% is acceptable. If all they’re doing is decorating their walls and sitting at a desk waiting for someone to walk in, then no, they shouldn’t get more than 30% for anything.
This is just an observation I’d like to share. I show in a number of galleries outside the USA, and the standard commission in those galleries is 30 percent. It was a pleasant surprise and is one reason I maintain those connections despite the inconvenience of doing business abroad.
I am quite surprised to hear that 50% is a standard commission! When I left the states 30 years ago, it was 30%, and here in Israel the standard is 30%. I also have a gallery that agrees to pay me my requested price for my work, and they sell it for whatever price they can. I like that arrangement very much.
In my Art Gallery, I pay my Artists 70% for commissions (Note: Artist receive 60% for their in-Gallery sales). My rationale is this higher Artist commission split is twofold:
1. For commissions, I have the Artist join in some of my discussions with the customer – to ensure the customer receives exactly what they want. This takes the Artists time and energy.
2. Commissions require the Artist to shift away from their unconstrained creative desires into what the customers wants.
Both these factors justify to me that Artists should receive more money for their artwork.
Abundant Kindness, Robin Holliday
Do galleries deserve a cut off of commissioned artwork?…Absolutely!…The gallery is in business to make money, and not simply serve as a form of promotion/ advertising for the artist. In return, the gallery needs to facilitate the process with a firm “artist commission contract” which protects the artist, as well as the gallery. My contract requires a 25% deposit down at the initiation of the project. The artist agrees to provide a preliminary sketch, and upon approval from the client, an additional 25% is required. Upon completion of the work the remainder is secured by the gallery. The gallery handles all of the transactions, including sales tax. My gallery receives 40% of the sale, with the remaining 60% for the artist, since this particular piece of artwork did not actually take up space in the gallery itself.
I had one client last year who refused to work with the gallery, and was in reality trying to get a better price by dealing directly with the artist. After a lot of discussion I agreed to allow the artist to handle the commission herself with the understanding that she would provide me with my part of the sale. When the painting was complete, the client tried to haggle the artist down to a lower price, and eventually backed out completely. When an artist starts dropping the price on their work because the gallery is not involved, then they are devaluing their work. The artist had invested 10 weeks in a painting with nothing to show for it. It was a difficult lesson learned by her. The relationship between the artist, and the gallery is important. Both parties need to protect and trust one another. Social media has opened the door at times, for artists, however can create more problems. as well. Allow your gallery to do what it does best, and don’t complain that they want to be compensated for it
I do a lot of portrait commissions and handle all of the transactions myself. I have a solid contract, ask for a non-refundable deposit to protect my time, and honestly can’t imagine not communicating with the clients myself. A third person in between adds the risk of miscommunication. Even if the gallery sets up appointments and such (which I feel is an unnecessary step that takes more time and emails/phone calls that are easier handled directly between artist and client) I don’t think it justifies the same 50% split as having physical work taking up gallery wall space and being seen by a lot more people. Since I keep my prices the same across the line whether I sell through a gallery or directly, which is what artists should do in order not to undersell the gallery, it is a huge pay cut if I were to have to pay a gallery 50% from the commission when there was no unpacking, hanging, re-packing etc. involved at all yet I still had all of the regular expenses of materials etc. If a client prefers to work through the gallery, that’s fine, but I think the gallery should offer to take less than the normal 50/50 split since it is a lot less work and involvement from them.
Curious if anyone knows what the protocol is when a client comes through a gallery (where they purchased a painting and the standard 50/50 split applied) and has asked for multiple commissions over a number of years. Is it standard to cut the gallery in each time? In this case I’m on the fourth commission for the same client- beyond the initial intro the gallery has not been involved- should the gallery still get a cut?
This is somewhat related: If someone has bought my work from a gallery and then wants to buy something from me directly, do I owe the gallery the same commission they would get from selling the work if it were in the gallery? (I don’t know whether the buyer found me first through that gallery, or another gallery, or my website.)