I thought it would be interesting to share what I am physically doing when I search for a new artwork online. This is how all of the objects in the collection have been discovered.
Since I search almost exclusively on eBay, I rely heavily on ebay.com, ebay.at, ebay.fr, ebay.co.uk, and ebay.be.
One session involves looking at 2,500 objects at a minimum, with the goal of looking at roughly 25,000-50,000 each month, and choosing from among them, the top two or top three objects. The hope is that, over a period of years, some of these objects will be legitimate masterpieces, and that identifying them will become easier with experience.
Since keywords may or may not appear in the seller’s listing of a desired object, it is preferable to search instead by category, either Arts or Antiques, and then use the most general keywords possible. This usually centers around the materials that the artworks are created with: stone, terra cotta, wood panel, copper panel, bronze, oil. Other words that help are: portrait, self-portrait, old, antique, rare, signed, listed artist, estate.
From there I begin scanning the thumbnails of the listings, showing the newest first, set in a grid and showing 192 thumbnails per page. I only click on the thumbnails that merit closer inspection, and from there a handful get added to my watch list.
If the object is good enough for me to want to place a bid, I do as much research as possible before bidding, because this decision will lock up my funds for the rest of the month. If I am satisfied with bidding, my maximum bid will be as high as possible. The way that I look at it is that if an object is good enough for me to want it, I have to be willing to pay whatever it takes to win it. For example, some of my earlier purchases were not good enough, in my opinion, to pay more than $500. I no longer bid on “bargain” objects like this, and instead look for objects that are so good that any price to pay is a privilege and a bargain.
Determining quality is mainly a process of elimination. The vast majority of objects are predictably bad, and can be brushed aside without hesitation. The intriguing objects are often glaringly obvious, even from a thumbnail photo. But they are only obvious because the rest of the listings have become tiresome from their mediocrity. The intriguing objects have museum quality stamped all over them. They possess rare characteristics and a degree of craftsmanship that pushes them far above the norm.
I do have a list of individual artists and subject matter that I look for, but these are a matter of luck. I prefer to find unfamiliar objects that expand the boundaries of the existing collection. A book like Gardner’s Art Through the Ages points the way as to what is possible to look for.