When you’re not getting paid after the sale of your art

That gallery deal seemed like a great thing, didn’t it? They sold work for you so you could concentrate on other parts of your art business. Yes, it’s a cushy situation . . . until they sell the art and don’t pay you.

If you’re not being paid by a gallery you know is making sales, your reaction should depend on the following. (Incidentally, this applies to non-gallery situations, too.)

Jeannie Paty, Red Tulips with Glasses.

Jeannie Paty, Red Tulips with Glasses. Oil, 16 x 12 inches. ©The Artist

1. What is the situation?
Is this the first time that you haven’t been paid–a more recent phenomenon? Or is the gallery guilty of chronic nonpayment? The former might reveal that the gallery is having financial problems. While this isn’t a good sign, it’s better than the latter. Chronic nonpayment indicates poor business skills and lack of regard for artists. Artist Kathy Partridge recommends checking a gallery’s credit score.

2. What are the terms of your contract?
A contract won’t do you a bit of good if the gallery doesn’t have the money to pay you, but at least you can refer to it in your correspondence or conversation. “Per the terms of our contract, I was to be paid within 30 days of a sale . . . “ If you don’t have a contract with your gallery, get one–even if you have to draft it yourself! I urge you to check out the Professional Guidelines from the Society of North American Goldsmiths (which is useful regardless of the type of work you do).

3. What is your relationship with the gallery?
If they’ve been absolutely wonderful to you, you’re going to respond to nonpayment differently than if they have been unpleasant to deal with. The same is true if you’ve been with them a long time and trust them.

4. How do you envision your future relationship with the gallery?
Do you see this as long-term? Or just a temporary relationship? Are you happy with the direction they’re headed? Happy with their space and their staff?

5. How is the gallerist addressing the situation?
Have they been forthright in their response? Or are they avoiding your calls and email? People who hide from their responsibilities get less sympathy from me.

Keep this in mind: Most galleries want to pay their artists and keep them happy. They want to do the right thing. Help them do this while looking out for yourself. More on that in another post.

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7 comments to When you’re not getting paid after the sale of your art

  • Great timing, as this reminds me that I need to deal with my own situation! I’ve known for awhile that I need to do something about it but have been dragging my feet since it’s my old workplace AND the only way I’m selling my work at the moment. (Although not a lot or regularly.) Thanks for the nudge!

  • If you’re selling directly to a collector, then ask for half up front (if it’s commission for example). If your selling on consignment or through a gallery, you’re at their mercy to a certain extent. I’d recommend doing homework on them beforehand, and I so agree with the idea of getting a contract. It’s the only thing that will save your bacon if it turns into a legal dispute.

    Thanks for this Alyson!

  • I know a gallery who did not pay an artist because the artist was also selling directly from his studio, which was not too far away, was selling alot directly & did not give the gallery anything- & was adamant that it was his right. Galleries may consider selling without them to be the equivalent of the artist not getting paid …Just a heads up as to motivations- artists sometimes have to analyze why they are not getting paid in order to mediate effectively…

  • Jamie: I’m a very good nudger.

    Cory: Yes, this is very important for commissions.

    Sari: That situation didn’t even fit into my thinking, but of course you’re right. If you’re not doing your part, the galleries might consider that a breach of contract.

  • But what do you do after you’ve decided the gallery isn’t going to pay you? What is the best legal avenues to take?

  • Katherine: Do you have a contract?

  • Yes, I do. I think contracts are essential in limiting risk in these circumstances. I have had to turn over accounts to my collection agency, which still, unfortunately, has not resulted in payment. I was wondering if there was any other advice anyone had to share besides securing an attorney.