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Selling Paintings: Which Subjects Sell Best?

If you want to sell lots of paintings, what subjects should you be painting?

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All painters know that some subjects sell better than others. Whether these are subjects you want to paint and whether you should be painting specifically for the market are two thorny questions. Only you can decide whether you want (or need) to paint with a view to selling as much as possible, or whether you can focus on painting subjects you choose. Of course, if your favourite subject happens to be the same as the market's, you're sitting pretty.

According to a Art Business Today survey in 2003*, these were the Top 10 best-selling subjects for paintings in the UK:
1. Traditional landscapes.
2. Local views.
3. Modern or semi-abstract landscapes.
4. Abstracts.
5. Dogs.
6. Figure studies (excluding nudes).
7. Seascapes, harbour, and beach scenes.
8. Wildlife.
9. Impressionistic landscapes.
10. Nudes.

So, having seen the list, are you reconsidering painting landscapes? I'm certainly pleased to discover that semi-abstract landscapes are on the list as this is one of my favourite subjects.

The survey also researched what the best-selling media are. I’m not really surprised prints sell more than original paintings, as they are cheaper; price is a major consideration for many people. But it’s worth noting that it’s limited-edition prints (where a set number of prints are made and each one is numbered), not open-edition prints (where the number of prints isn’t set; more can always be produced) that top the list.
1 Limited edition offset-litho prints.
2 Limited edition giclée prints.
3 Open edition offset-litho prints.
4 Oil and acrylic paintings.
5 Watercolours.
6 Artists' original prints (eg etchings, engravings).
7 Open edition giclée prints.

It’s interesting to compare the list of the Top 10 best-selling deceased artists to the best-selling subjects. Top of the list is Lowry, whose paintings are not what I’d call “traditional landscape”, though they are “local views”.
1 LS Lowry.
2 Monet.
3 Alan Ingham.
4 Russell Flint.
5 John Miller.
6 Rothko.
7 Van Gogh.
8 Picasso.
9 Klimt.
10 Matisse.

*The survey was conducted by Art Business Today on behalf of The Fine Art Trade Guild; more than 800 galleries across the UK were asked to name their best-selling prints (limited and open editions) in 2003.

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