Ethics and art galleries


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Canadian art dealer Joshua Peters sent a letter to friends and patrons of his gallery: “I never thought I would have to say this because it’s so fundamental, but ethics matter. We all know this and we’re meant to act on this belief, but the sad truth is we’re seeing shocking examples of unethical behaviour from art galleries in B.C. and it hurts everyone involved.” He cited national news concerning two well-known Canadian galleries recently discovered to be selling consigned artwork without notifying consignors, halting communication with artists and consignors, quietly closing their doors, keeping profits and disappearing.

Man Singing, 2017 Etching and aquatint on paper 6 x 4 1/2 in 15.2 x 11.4 cm by David Lloyd Blackwood, RCA (b. 1941)

Man Singing, 2017
Etching and aquatint on paper
6 x 4 1/2 in 15.2 x 11.4 cm
by David Lloyd Blackwood, RCA (b. 1941)

“I have spent the past week contemplating these responsibilities and decided to formalize them in a written code of ethics,” wrote Joshua. “It is a code I believe all art galleries should adhere to and if you decide to read it I would love to hear your feedback. Thank you for your continued trust and friendship which we have so cherished here for the past 59 years.”

Having witnessed my Dad conduct business on almost exclusively a handshake over a 50-year career, having done so myself for 30, and having heard from so many other artists – we have all experienced mostly wonderful and productive, respectful and honest professional partnerships, dotted with a small handful of not-so-great apples. I once watched my Dad negotiate for the return of paintings by mentioning that he might ask the over 50,000 subscribers to this letter to write to him if they were also having trouble getting paid, or getting missing paintings returned to their studios. In an industry where artists are easily exploited, this dealer fell to his knees and begged my Dad not to mention him by name.



Great Mummer Unveiled, 2002 Etching and aquatint on paper 12 x 18 in 30.5 x 45.7 cm by David Lloyd Blackwood

Great Mummer Unveiled, 2002
Etching and aquatint on paper
12 x 18 in 30.5 x 45.7 cm
by David Lloyd Blackwood

PS: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” (John Quincy Adams)

Hambleton Galleries Code of Ethics, May 2022


How we behave matters! The better we act the better humans we will be and the more successful we will be as a business.

Human decency. We know intuitively what is right and our actions are guided by that instinct. This includes:

Honesty. We do not lie.
Genuineness. We do not present a false demeanour.
Reasonableness. We try to do what is fair, not just what benefits us.
People over profits. We do what is right because humans deserve respect and our integrity is more important than profit.
Choosing kindness. Difficult and confrontational situations are unavoidable in life. We strive to choose kindness in those moments.
Professionalism. We have high standards for record keeping, written agreements, and proper behaviour.
Laws. We comply willingly and thoroughly with all laws — including tax and criminal codes — and do not seek to subvert them in any way.

Our clients are our guests and deserve respect, whether they purchase art or not.
Safe space. Everyone is welcome, period.
Privacy. We do not disclose the purchasers of artwork and work to keep your personal information as safe as possible.
No pressure. We do not employ sales tactics or manipulation to make sales.
Easy as possible. We want clients to enjoy their experience! We try to make purchasing and receiving artwork as simple as we can.

Our artists and consignors are the bedrock of our business.
Professional documentation. We create and securely store accurate and complete records for sales, inventory, and payments.
Gallery agreements for artists. Artists deserve security in their partnership with the gallery! We provide thorough gallery agreements to every artist outlining our responsibilities to one another so each party has clarity in the relationship.
Consignment agreements for consignors. Consignors deserve security when entrusting their artwork to us! We provide thorough consignment agreements listing the gallery’s responsibilities in caring for and selling their artwork so there is clarity and confidence in the relationship.
Prompt pay. We are the caretakers of the funds obtained for artists and consignors and we pay them promptly and accurately.
Inventory transparency. We do not own the artwork that is entrusted to us. We therefore immediately honour all requests for updated inventories or the return of artwork by an artist or consignor, and we do not withhold the sale status or whereabouts of artwork.
Respect. Artists and consignors are our equal partners and we treat them with courtesy and respect.
Communication. Good communication is essential in all relationships and so we strive to maintain honest and open dialogue with our partners.
Insurance. We properly and fully insure all artwork in our care.

Our employees are bound by this code of ethics and we are responsible for them.
Humans, not resources. We do not treat employees as a resource but rather as the complex individuals that they are! They deserve to be respected and treated well by their employer.
Living wage. We believe that employers have a responsibility to pay a living wage. We do not seek to take advantage of underpaid labour, do not accept work without pay, and do not engage in unpaid internships.
Health benefits. We believe that employers have a responsibility to supplement shortfalls in the social safety net by providing unconditional health benefits.
Discrimination and fair treatment. We do not discriminate based on sex, gender, race, religion, personal beliefs, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other unjust basis, and we aim to treat everyone as fairly and equally as possible.
Sexual harassment. We do not tolerate any form of sexual harassment. We take any allegation of abuse extremely seriously and we believe survivors.

We wish to grow and better ourselves, which requires we hold ourselves accountable for our actions and words.
Tell us what we did wrong. We are open to critical feedback! How else will we learn and improve?
Report us. We are members of the Art Dealers Association of Canada (ADAC) and are bound to uphold our code of ethics. If we should fail in this, you may contact them at or 1-416-934-1583 to discuss your situation.

(Joshua Peters, Owner and Director, Hambleton Galleries)

The ‘Friend’ Outward Bound for the Labrador, 2007 Etching and aquatint on paper 20 x 32 in 50.8 x 81.3 cm by David Lloyd Blackwood

The ‘Friend’ Outward Bound for the Labrador, 2007
Etching and aquatint on paper
20 x 32 in 50.8 x 81.3 cm
by David Lloyd Blackwood

Esoterica: A few years ago, a gallery consigned a few of my paintings on spec and then started behaving unusually; I didn’t hear from them for months, so I emailed to have the work returned. After a week or so, I received a reply that the work had sold and they would pay me in 60 days. This happened three times, with no other communication in between. I pulled the remaining work. (By comparison, my representing dealers are in regular communication about all relevant matters, we take the time to know each other and each other’s businesses, we make plans in partnership and they pay weekly or monthly.) I only mention this because sharing these details is hopefully informing and empowering to other artists. While searching for gallery reviews, I found How’s My Dealing?, a kind of Glassdoor for artists where you can post anonymously about galleries, dealers, fairs, advisors or artist opportunities and share your experiences with others. I invite collectors and other consignors to check it out, too. If you are sharing, please do so responsibly and with respect and fairness. Together, we can lift and empower the ethical leaders in our industry and avoid the heartache of dealing with those less deserving. “For also knowledge itself is power.” (Sir Francis Bacon)

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“Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.” (Henry David Thoreau)



  1. I just dropped work off to a gallery, (consignment) and in their contract was a clause essentially stating that while the work was in their space they took no responsibility for damage, loss etc. is that usual? I find I often have to repair paintings when I pick them up much to my chagrin.

  2. Linda Anderson Stewart on

    I believe some of what is happening with traditional galleries is the profound change in the buying public. Fewer and fewer folks are willing to buy one of a kind paintings. Larger works are even more difficult to sell. They are seen as too expensive and we are continually asked for cheaper reproductions. It must be extremely difficult to pay high rents and keep doors open when your bread and butter is no longer selling or of value. I am not suggesting that unethical behavior is the answer but perhaps a profound change in how art sales are handled needs to be made. Educating an increasingly uninformed public may be in order as well as marketing skills for artists. Selling your work is a business afterall. It is not a magic fairy world, art making, it is a profession like any other.

  3. Sara, Your dad was fortunate to be able to count on his considerable subscriber base, which was a blessing indeed (oh how that fellow must have felt shamed), but few artists can use that kind of leverage and might feel more beholden to the galleries; it points to a power (im)balance that exists in the art world no less than in the corporate world. If only people could do unto others…

  4. I have lost countless paintings over the years, I don’t want to count them. The galleries are gone, some are still selling my paintings and not paying me. Not sure what I will do next. So sad. It is a tough world for artists anyway. To be treated this way is infuriating.

    • Muriel Dowle on

      Can you go to the gallery that is treating you this way and just remove your paintings. If you need support take a friend who will not be intimidated. I shocked at this behaviour.

  5. Yes, this does happen. I’d almost forgotten as it was over ten years ago. I had brought one of my paintings in for framing and the gallery owner kept saying I’m really busy, please give me another week. The following week I popped over to see what was happening and the gallery was gone!!! I found that over 30 artists had been bilked with some losing several pieces each. We heard that he had opened a new gallery in Toronto but under another name which made it hard to track and since this location wasn’t definite I just had to let it go. The police didn’t respond to asking for help saying that next time I should have followed up much sooner. This makes us quite vulnerable to someone who isn’t ethical.

    • Sara,
      Thank you to you and your Dad for your perspective and to Mr. Peters for taking the time to share his ethics.
      Despite the recent bad apple,.. I continue to believe in the arts, ethical galleries, supportive partnerships as we all work to support each other’s growth and the importance of art in our world.
      I am grateful for this letter and supportive art community.
      Hope you are well and painting!

  6. Gee, these stories are a lot more than imagined.
    My sister went into the new novelty tourist shop to check out my paintings: said the salesperson told her the big ‘showcase’ painting behind her was not for sale. I went in the next day and took all my paintings back. Seems the shop had no intention of selling my big painting as it brought customers in.

  7. Some time ago, I had work in a gallery on Granville St. All was well until the owner passed and his partner took over the business. In a few short months, all went south. I made a ferry trip a while later and decided to take my work; however one large piece was missing. After a month of promises and then no reply to phone calls, I contacted a lawyer. He reviewed my contract, sent her a letter with an ultimatum which was ignored. My lawyer said, if we went to Small Claims Court, the judge would undoubtedly rule in my favour; however, the owner is under no obligation to repay. A month later, the story broke out in the Vancouver Sun. The gallery dealer had pilfered hundreds of thousands of dollars worth through payments made directly to the gallery. A few months later, I saw my work in the House & Home Magazine and contacted the couple who had purchased my piece. They had paid the dealer on the spot 6 months prior!
    Dealers are supposed to post the work as “On Consignment” but almost never do. When the Bailiff comes, all works under the roof is lumped together as “assets”.

  8. it was such a shock to hear on the news what happened to Victoria’s Winchester Gallery. This gallery was always revered as one of the finest galleries an artist could be represented by. I did notice over the past few years some artists had pulled out of there, and wondered why. Owning a gallery requires basic knowledge on how to run a business. I once had to beg to be paid for the sale of my artwork in my first time ever being in a gallery. I once had paychecks bounce in a nightclub I worked in as a server. it’s basic rules. You pay your employees and your suppliers. I have compassion and empathy for the business owners who allow things to unravel to the point they need to hide. It’s sad, really, in many cases I don’t think the owners intention is to scam and steal from anyone. It’s just ignorance on how to run a successful business. Thank goodness I am now represented by a gallery that is successful, honest and understands the ethics involved in making all involved happy. Best we can do as artists is live and learn.

  9. Karen Duplisea on

    Thank You for this. A few years ago, I was trying to follow the story of what happened to artist Jeremy Mann and an Italian gallery he had shipped some paintings off to that I had loved! Apparently they had sold them and kept the money. Unlike most artists, he was taking them to court. The flagrant disregard for the well-being of artists was utterly appalling, and apparently this gallery owner had done this to a number of artists. I decided I wouldn’t bother with galleries……..
    It is a reflection of the larger problem having to do with what I am seeing more and more – disregard for one another in general. So sad!

  10. Wow! I put replying to today’s post off until the end of my work day when all paintings are safely tucked away for the night. I knew there were some of these issues happening and I was certainly aware and so very disappointed with the two galleries that Sara mentions in her article. I am a firm believer that (both as an artist and as a gallery owner) there is a need for having a clear, signed contract or agreement with a venue and/or art dealer. This doesn’t resolve every dispute, as we can see from the comments, but it should help create an established baseline for when things go sideways. The contracts or agreements should have a defined review and renewal period if it is to be an ongoing representation relationship.

    That said, in current times, with much easier access to our audiences and art collector base, I do not feel any sense of power embalance with a venue or gallery or art dealer. These are my artworks and I am carefully choosing if and who will retail or represent my work. And I have a real choice because I have developed and established my own direct artist/art collector sales channel. In fact, I have learned to do this so well, that I no longer seek out commercial galleries or art dealers. From this position, I have lots of room to negotiate and the offers has to be appealing enough to extend my work into a particular market reach beyond which I currently have access and where I feel the work is ready to be presented. The second part of this equation is as important as the first.

    We are also responsible, on both sides of this equation, to ask for and seek out references and check those references.

    I share this because, as artists and as galleries and art dealer, it is important to implicitly understand that commercial galleries are not even close to the only game worth playing to acquire original art in our global town. What we do, good or bad, follows us no matter where we go. Hats off to Joshua Peters for drawing his gallery’s line in the sand for all to see. Well done! A great example to follow.

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August 22, 2022 to August 25, 2022

image002 (1)Permission to Paint Expressively Series   Session 2 

August 22-25, 2022 

Join Ellie Harold for “Expressive Painting: Making Your  Marks.”  With a focus on intuitive mark-making, this workshop is designed to facilitate a fuller expression of your deepest and most essential artist Self. Content, process and lightly structured exercises give you permission to create the art that wants to be made by you in the safe space of Ellie’s studio and the fresh air and cool light of northern Michigan near Sleeping Bear Dunes. You’ll return home with a specific art “care plan” to assure support for “Making Your  Marks” in the world. Details and registration at

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Essentially I am representational painter, with a real appreciation for the design aspects of abstract art.  By emphasizing strong shape relationships and connecting bands of textural color, I am able to paint the natural world in two dimensional patterns while striving to create interesting three dimensional compositions.  Andrew Wyeth, a realist who has influenced my work, painted very abstract watercolors that helped him explore the possibilities for unusual compositions.  Like him, I value the drama of a strong composition, solid drawing, complex textures, and sumptuous, rich color while attempting to ground the painting’s design in essential, free form shapes.  Past Masters who have shaped my artistic direction are: Joaquin Sorolla, John Singer Sargent, Richard Diebenkorn, and the California impressionists. Richard Schmid is a contemporary painter whose instruction has contributed greatly to my ability to capture the light, intimacy, and subtle textures of the hidden landscapes.
I have found painting landscapes in the field to be an adventure of the mind, spirit, and body. It is a personal record of a distinct moment in time that captures an emotional response to a physical reality. Nature is exciting, unforgiving, yet always spiritually rewarding. I am grateful to be able to share this natural beauty with fellow wanderers hoping to discover those special moments.

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