What To Look For (And What to Avoid) When Buying Vintage and Antique Art Online

Living room decorated with art

by Pamela Siegel

Whether you’re looking for a statement piece to decorate your living area or want to acquire a magazine-worthy collection of smaller art pieces to hang over a staircase, vintage and antique works of art can offer the solutions you’ve been seeking. There’s the thrill of the hunt to consider, which is always fun. But buying artwork online can also provide a world of options you won’t find as readily visiting an art gallery or thrift store here and there in your community.



Signed Joan Miró lithograph titled "l'encre"

What to Look for When Buying Art Online

You don’t have to be an art snob to curate a collection of great vintage and antique art for your home. There are options available for every taste and budget. And since artwork is continually entering the secondary marketplace via household liquidations, online estate auctions offer great potential for snagging an eye-catching piece of art at a price far less than the original owner paid for it.

Some key points to consider when buying art online are:

Buy what you like. Regardless of the type, art needs to speak to you first and foremost. It may take a bit of time to hunt down the perfect picture to compliment your décor or to curate an art wall, but it’s well worth the effort. Even if it’s an extreme bargain or not everyone else’s cup of tea, if you love it, that’s what matters most.

Look for appealing frames. Yes, almost any work of art can be reframed. That service doesn’t come cheap, though. If you’re determined to stick to a budget, looking for art you like that’s already framed in an appealing way will help you stay on track. You might be able to spend a bit more on the art itself this way, too.

Be aware of shipping costs. Another budget buster can be the cost of having larger framed art pieces shipped to you. This is especially true when a piece is elaborately framed and quite heavy. An advantage of AuctionNinja online estate auctions is the option to pick up the artwork in person rather than having it shipped. This can also be the case with some other online venues like Facebook marketplace. If you find a vendor in your area on eBay or a site like RubyLane, it also makes sense to ask for pick-up as an option.


Original oil painting by Wesley Webber titled "Sailboats Off Newport"

Should you buy original paintings or prints?

Buying art can get a little vexing when it comes to deciding on originals, prints, or other varied works like posters and animation cels. These offer a wide array of choices ranging from traditional landscapes and portraits to modern abstract art and whimsical cartoons. There’s no right or wrong answer, really, since options in every art category are available in all price ranges.

Some of the different types of art you can look for include:

Original paintings. Original paintings don’t have to be masterpieces to warrant acquiring them. Talented amateur artists have created many collection-worthy original paintings using oil, acrylic, or watercolor paints. You can, of course, seek the work of more established artists if those types of paintings are within your budget.

Prints. There are several different kinds of prints, including lithographs and serigraphs. A lithograph is made using a stone plate, while a serigraph, usually the less expensive option, is made using silkscreen printing. Regardless of the type, a print doesn’t have to be signed and/or numbered to be worth owning (although that does tend to add to the value). One of the ways to identify a signed print in comparison to an oil painting is that it will be signed by the artist in pencil rather than in paint. Just be sure to have any very expensive prints and signatures authenticated because many have been faked.

Art posters. Vintage art posters – from advertising pieces to movie art – make for stunning wall décor in many settings. Many of these items have been reproduced, however. If you’re paying top dollar for what you believe to be an original poster, make sure it has been authenticated.


Framed serigraph by Erté

Use the Right Keywords

When searching online for various types of artworks, using the right search terms will yield a list worthy of perusing. The words “antique” and “vintage” are a good place to begin. Antique artworks are more than 100 years old, while most online marketplaces categorize vintage as between 20 and 99 years of age. Sellers often get these terms confused, however, so you may want to try using both.

You’ll also want to include words that categorize the medium (painting, print, canvas, board, paper, etc.) and the style (landscape, floral, portrait, abstract, etc.) to narrow the results. Other specifics like colors, types of flowers, and locations, for example, can help with further honing your search.


Disney animation cel artwork

Questions to Ask the Seller

Looking at photos with a discerning eye is one of the keys to online purchasing success. Beyond your initial attraction to the art piece, you might find that you need to ask a few questions to understand what you’re buying and to make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for.

Once you find a work of art you’re considering, some things you might need to ask a seller are:

Is it an original? – Some prints on canvas have fake brush strokes to make them look more realistic. In those instances, you really must examine them closely to discern whether they’re the real deal. Ask the seller to take another look to be sure if you have any doubts at all.

Can I return it? – With many online purchases, all sales are final. This depends on where you’re shopping, of course, but it’s always wise to ask about return policies before pulling the trigger on a piece of art. You might decide it’s worth the risk, but it’s better to know before you get into a sticky no-return situation.

Is the condition excellent? – Whether you’re buying an antique oil painting, a vintage lithograph, or any other type of art, you want it to be in good shape. Ask about accumulated surface dirt and “craquelure” (cracks on the surface of the paint) on antique oil paintings as well as stains and foxing (brown spots on the paper) that can be present on vintage prints and posters. If you’re delving into something totally new to you, do some research about common condition issues and ask all the right questions.

Ready to shop for art online? Browse all our wall accent and art auctions, and vintage and antique fine art on in the AuctionNinja marketplace.


Want AuctionNinja in your inbox?
Yes, I want to be on AuctionNinja's exclusive email list! Terms of Service and Privacy Policy apply.
Top Auction Locations

New York









New York


New York

Rhode Island

North Carolina




District of Columbia