Several years ago while vacationing in Italy, I was on a mission to buy an original landscape painting of the Tuscan hills complete with villa and red poppies. That's all I knew. I had no knowledge of reputable, yet affordable, galleries. I didn't know one artist from the other. And, I wouldn't have recognized authentic from mass-produced. I naively stumbled into a small gallery because I fell in love with a painting displayed by the front door, and bought it.
- Know what you looking for. The number of art galleries and artisan shops are overwhelming throughout the tourist towns of Italy. Many galleries feature contemporary art, others are more traditional. Some offer paintings, others photographs. You can save time, and potentially money, if you know what kind of work you are looking for.
- Look beyond the galleries. Larger galleries tend to feature more established artists, therefore being more expensive. Look for young, less-known artists selling their pieces from their studios. Exhibitions, art shows, and art schools are also good for discovering new artists and obtaining original pieces less expensively.
- Do some homework before you go. Websites like artfacts.net, artinfo.com, and artnet.com offer comprehensive lists of artists and galleries all over the world, as well as details on upcoming exhibitions and fairs.
- Substantiate authenticity. Artwork purchased at galleries should come with certificates of authenticity signed by the dealer. Obtaining authenticity in open markets is a little more difficult. If it is important to you to have original work, purchase from a reputable dealer who can provide the proper paperwork.
- Purchase the frame. Consider purchasing the frame the piece is displayed in, even though it adds to the cost of shipping. Frames help protect the canvas from rubbing against anything during shipping. You can always have the piece re-framed to fit your needs or decor once you receive it.
- Inquire about your shipping options. Galleries will arrange shipping for you which will include customs processing and insurance. If you make a purchase outside of a gallery, inquire about international shipping company options. If possible, use a well-recognized company like FedEx -- improper handling can lead to problems getting the item through customs. It the piece is small, you may carry it on the plane (assuming it meets airline carry-on rules). Whatever you do, do not check a piece of artwork. Airlines accept no responsibility for damaged or lost art.
- Be patient. It can take 3-4 months from the time of your purchase for your art to arrive at your front door. Should you become concerned about the status of your shipment, contact the gallery or shipping dealer for an update -- but don't be surprised if you only get "it's in route" for a response.