When a Bad Gallery Owner Happens to a Good Artist…

The good news is that three of my original “tall tree” paintings have been sold!  The bad news is that the local gallery owner is refusing to pay me what we had agreed for the sale of these paintings.

I’d love to hear folk’s thoughts and advice on how to proceed!  Here’s the story:

My agreement with the gallery owner is a standard 50/50 split of the retail price of sold original art (and does not cover any discounts).  Without my knowledge or agreement, he sold these three paintings to his client at a 20% discount.  And, he subtracted half of that discount (10% of the total sale… over $500) from the payment he has sent me.  In effect, forcing me to participate in the discount he gave.  This gallery has sold one other painting and, per our agreement, I was paid 50% of the retail price.

We discussed this discount after the sale was completed twice: once I even offered to participate in this discount at a lower rate and was refused; the second time I was told I would get no more money and that I could continue our discussion through litigation if I wanted to.  Ouch!

As you might imagine, this issue both surprised and angered me (this gallery owner is a good friend of a family member – I mistakenly assumed a level of honesty and trust).  My relationship with this gallery has ended after this sale, so I have no vested interest in maintaining it.  I worked very hard to create these large paintings and would just like the full, agreed-upon payment.

What’s the right thing to do?  Pursue this more?  Walk away and deposit the check he gave me? Warn the other artists that he represents? Name names here on my blog?


9 thoughts on “When a Bad Gallery Owner Happens to a Good Artist…

  1. Brian June 17, 2009 / 8:28 am

    I would say it all depends on if you have anything in writing about your 50/50 deal before discounts… if you do them proceed with the litigation.. if not, and it was just a verbal agreement, then I would cash the check ASAP and cut your losses.

    for sure before you cut your losses, get a full receipt of what they all paid and what he paid you.. just in case it comes back to bite you.

  2. JD June 18, 2009 / 1:52 pm

    I’ve also run into dishonest gallery owners and unless the monetary amount is really large, I just don’t think it is worth it – put your energy into creating new art! Good, too, that you ended this gallery relationship – frees you up to move on.

  3. Greg Katz June 19, 2009 / 11:54 am

    It’s truly a shame that someone like the gallery owner takes advantage of their power over the artist. I’m not sure why they feel they have the right to make decisions on behalf of the artist, but they do feel anointed to do so.

    I believe your decision to end the relationship with the gallery speaks of your integrity both as a person and as an artist. Maybe the gallery owner will learn something from you.

    It is a small town so I’m sure the gallery owner will discuss it with other owners. I’ll be interested to hear what the word on the street is about the situation.

    No matter what… Congrats of the sale!

  4. Ellen June 19, 2009 / 12:36 pm

    This is a situation where words matter. Was the agreement to split the “sale price” or for the “retail price”.

    You could pursue this in small claims court, but would this mark you as a difficult artist to other galleries? Then again a nastygram from a lawyer might do some good.

    Going forward make sure you stipulate no discounts or discounts on approval only in your sales contract.

  5. Janet June 23, 2009 / 4:01 am

    I agree it would depend on what you have in writing as far as pursuing a small claims court action.
    Most reputable gallery owners take a discount out of their cut if there is no agreement with the artist to split that discount.
    I hope you have it in writing! Pursue it if you can.

  6. Ellen June 25, 2009 / 8:58 am

    What did you decide to do?

  7. davidcastleart June 26, 2009 / 9:01 am

    Update: I’ve moved on. I decided that for this amount of $$, it wasn’t worth investing more of my time – I’d rather create new art!
    Upon some reflection, it certainly isn’t wrong to trust people, but I sure should pay attention to red flags whenever they wave and I realize I ignored some in this case.

  8. Cath Sheard July 19, 2009 / 5:22 pm

    Glad you decided to move on, but timely warning to one and all – get your agreements in writing and make sure they are specific enough.

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