What to do with Grandpa’s art?


Dear Artist,

Recently, Mark Winkelstein wrote, “A friend passed away and I have been trying to assist his family in the best means of selling some of his originals. He is the fairly significant Hungarian-Canadian painter Gyula (Julius) Marosán (1915-2003). Any suggestions would be appreciated.”


oil painting
by Gyula Marosan

Thanks, Mark. This is a problem a lot of families are faced with and not everyone is aware of the options and pitfalls. There are two main objectives inheritors often have for their departed–further fame and further fortune. Maximizing cash flow may mean building posthumous fame. If a deceased artist has worked with commercial galleries or has had a substantial lifetime collectorship, these vested interests can be an aid.

In the case of Mr. Marosán, several galleries already are keeping his spirit alive. Seeking advice from galleries is the place to start. It’s common for dealers to make offers — often lowball — on “the works” or to cherry-pick and pay cash for a selection. This is actually not a bad way to go as the dealer will be motivated to control and build the prices of a finite supply. Here are a few things to think about:


oil on silk, 19 x 23 inches
by Gyula Marosan

Put aside personal and particular works that need to be kept in the family. With dealer consultation, eliminate substandard works and destroy them. If family members wish to be participants in potential profits, they will have to work out a legal agreement with the dealer. This can be expensive and destroy a dealer’s incentive.

Consider setting up a memorial website to honour and display the better works. Consider gifting a few choice pieces to museums. (In the Marosán situation, consider museums in both Hungary and Canada.) If no private dealer or public gallery connections can be made, consider slowly letting the works out through commercial auctions. Stop doing this if hammer prices become embarrassingly low. While commissions can be higher than in auction houses, also give consideration to leaving paintings on consignment with selected galleries. A thoughtful gesture is to make certain works available to charity fundraisers. No profit there, but you’ll make a genuine, life-affirming gesture that might have pleased the deceased.


oil painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Gyula Marosan

Best regards,


PS: “Full lasting is the song, though he, the singer, passes.” (George Meredith)

Esoterica: It’s important for living artists to be constantly weeding. Destroying substandard work is not only good for the heirs, it’s good for the artist: nothing worse than mediocrity in sight. Burning, while illegal in some jurisdictions, is best. I do it quietly on cold, sentimental nights as a ceremony of sacrifice in the fireplace. Further, a quick note in the will, “Destroy all unsigned art,” saves everybody a lot of trouble and anguish. Remember, it’s always nicer to enjoy a few brilliant friends than to endure a crowd of dullards.


Vincent’s estate
by Greg Freedman, New Westminster, BC, Canada


acrylic painting, 24 x 30 inches
by Greg Freedman

No comment on the posthumous building of an artist’s reputation would be complete without mentioning the efforts of Johanna van Gogh. Johanna was married to art dealer, Theo van Gogh, who died suddenly at the age of 34 leaving Johanna with a young son and nothing much more than a collection of hitherto unsellable paintings by Theo’s older brother, Vincent. It was Johanna who assiduously built Vincent’s fame by editing and publishing his correspondence with Theo (thereby establishing his reputation as an artist “who suffered for his sanity and tried to set us free”) and carefully managing the exhibition of Vincent’s paintings through strategic donations to various retrospective exhibitions.


Buried under it all
by Pamela Plotkin, Newport Beach, CA, USA


“Hollister Peak”
oil painting 18 x 20 inches
by John A. Dominique

My Great Uncle John A. Dominique was one of the original plein-air artists. He settled in Ojai for the last fifty plus years of his life (he lived to be 100 years old). Before that he lived in Santa Barbara, Laguna, San Diego… He lived in Oregon and Washington states as well.

A few years ago someone found some of his paintings rolled up in an attic. A gallery claimed them and sold them. I was happy that his work was discovered and was being displayed. I have so much of his art work that it is overwhelming to know what to do with it. Most of his plein-air art has been sold or privately owned. His family has several pieces. But he left our family with a huge collection of abstracts. Many are large pieces.


“Young Willows, Veronica Springs Road”
oil painting, 22 x 30 inches
by John A. Dominique

I know the plein-air pieces can be donated to galleries or sold but it’s his abstracts that I do not know what to do with. There are hundreds and hundreds of them of them. It is overwhelming to go through. Our family has a foundation that gives away music and art scholarships to high school and college students. I have given many wet studies and sketches to appreciative students over the years. But still there are hundreds left. I sometimes feel buried under all of his art work. I feel responsible and find it very difficult to throw any of it out. Which ones to keep? But it would take at least a month or two to go through all the work so it continues to sit in storage.

I am also an artist and have started to discard works I do not enjoy or appreciate. Your recommendation for artists to cleaning out their work is an excellent one.


Be careful, one never knows
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA


“Red Triangle”
original painting
by Peter Brown

When art work comes to a death, we should all be very, very careful. Vermeer was a hobbyist painter in his lifetime, and with just 50 paintings he became important. Van Gogh died without selling a painting. He also became very important. Sometimes, I believe that my grandson will be very happy to own some of my work . I paint for my grandson. The fads will have died out, but a beautiful piece of art will still live and still be something.

I will never burn anything. I will learn from it, and maybe change it, but it will always teach me something. Personally, I like my own failures. Were my colors too ahead of the times? Would those colors be in fashion now? I will leave it to my son and grandson to burn anything that I make in my lifetime, and I still have my first sketch book from when I was 13 years old. I am just saying be careful with your stuff. One never knows…


Mortal art
by David Millard, Bothell, WA, USA


“White House, Early Spring”
watercolour painting
by David Millard

What does happen to most old art? It seems that compared to many of us, Mr. Marosan is an extraordinary guy who earned his works’ value, but what will happen to even his best art in the next 20 years? 50 years? I recall seeing so much art back in the ’60s & ’70s and I see little sign of it anywhere today. Has it all been hoarded by collectors? Are there that many collectors in the world? I’d be grateful if there were just a few more willing to buy even one piece of real art! It may be uncomfortable to think about, but is it likely that most of our art is not immortal? Is that so bad? Don’t tell me time will tell. We won’t be around to find out either way.

Several years back an older artist that I admired self-published a book of his work. I recently ran into the artist’s son clearing stuff out in a yard sale. He was giving away copies of his father’s book with every purchase. Although it was awesome to see a retrospective of his life’s work, his retrospect was being given away. So what will happen to his paintings? It made me think about my own art after I’m gone. In light of this, your comments about burning your lesser works does not seem so controversial. Better that I put them to rest now than someday a stranger bargains them off in a yard sale.

In the mean time I am re-thinking my ambitions to paint. I guess I need to get back to what I did in the third grade and paint for the joy of it, being satisfied that that is enough. Someday my work may end up in the Louvre or someone’s lavatory. Either way, when I’m put to rest I want to be at rest with my life’s work.


Keeping the art alive
by BJ Grant


“Flourishes cover”
calligraphy by
BJ Grant and Helen Rasplicka

I had an artist aunt, who passed away and left me her watercolors. She was fairly well known and belonged to the local watercolor guild and entered all the shows and won many blue ribbons. I am a Calligrapher, and I took some of her work and calligraphed on it. I entered them in shows with giving credit to her as the artist and me as the calligrapher. They were very well received.




There is 1 comment for Keeping the art alive by BJ Grant

From: Jim Draughon — Jun 06, 2009

I find it really appalling that one would presume to add their work to and alter that of another, whatever the motivation.


Suggestions for heirs
by B.J. Adams, Washington, DC, USA


“Framing the landscape”
original painting, 23 x 32 inches
by B.J. Adams

Your letter contains a list of good suggestions for heirs. I copied this letter and sent it to my son and daughter, telling them to print and save it. It will give them a direction to follow when I give up this world and leave a lot of unsold work. Of course, ever the optimist, I am hoping that there won’t be any unsold art but one never knows. A suggestion I have already given them is to invite my artist friends to come into my studio and let them take all of the art materials and tools, as well as idea and reference files they may find useful.


Bookmark it
by Doug Mays, Stoney Creek, ON, Canada


“Country Garden”
watercolour painting
by Doug Mays

In respect to destroying substandard work (with an eco-friendly slant) — I found that cutting my substandard watercolours into 1″ x 7″ rectangles make excellent bookmarks. They’re always appreciated and I have an unlimited supply.



There is 1 comment for Bookmark it by Doug Mays

From: Grace Cowling — May 26, 2009

Another idea I used when we first moved to Grimsby was to cut up unwanted watercolour paintings into 2″ squares and mount them on 4″ square pieces of bristol or mat board. Served up on a tray at the door for Trick-or-Treaters on Oct. 31 was a huge success and introduced me as an artist in our new neighbourhood.


Lots of artwork to deal with
by Eloise Weymouth, Terre Haute, IN, USA

I have not only had my father’s calligraphy but my mother-in-law’s oil paintings to deal with as well as now my own. Thank you for your sound advice. I’m ready to go light that fire. Maybe some will remain to a special few. Thanks for addressing a touchy situation.


Disposing of unwanted art
by Roberta Van Zandt Loflin, Baton Rouge,LA, USA


“Cypress grove”
watercolour painting, 15 x 11 inches
by Roberta Van Zandt Loflin

As I watercolor painter, I have found a less painful way to dispose of unwanted art. I cut up the offending works into small pieces to be glued to note cards (with my website printed on the back) This spring I have been spending Sunday afternoons in a park painting and sketching to live music. My cards may not be flying off the table but I do make “gasoline money” and have met many interesting people. It’s hard selling art right now but finding such ways to share is good for my bruised ego! (And all my experiments don’t go to waste.)

There is 1 comment for Disposing of unwanted art by Roberta Van Zandt Loflin

From: MARILYN SOMMERS — Apr 10, 2013



Not the leftovers
by Jo VanderWoude, Sioux Falls, SD, USA


“Dream Catcher”
original painting
by Jo VanderWoude

I want my children to have my best work not the leftovers when I die so each year for the past 5 years I have had them choose whatever painting they want from those I have on hand and my favorites that I have hanging in my home. In addition, I have painted two works each specifically for them. I’m in my 60’s now and hopefully have a lot of paint left in my brush but one never knows and it gives me great pleasure to see them enjoy these paintings. This year I probably won’t have them choose another painting as one can over do a good thing but will tell them they can request a painting at any time and it will be a priority for me.

The attached painting, Dream Catcher, is one I did specifically for my daughter (she does research in SIDS). The SIDS rate is one of the highest in the world here in S.D. on the Pine Ridge Reservation and this painting depicts a Native American mother’s love and the dreams she has for her child which are way too often cut short because of SIDS.

There are 2 comments for Not the leftovers by Jo VanderWoude

From: Carol — May 25, 2009

Love your painting… so much hope!!!

From: Gene Martin — May 26, 2009

Japan had one of the highest sids rates on the world and now has the next to lowest. What happened? Before, all children were required to have the vaccinations before age two. Now, they are required to do all vaccinations after age two. There is info on the net about this.


Treasures with an uncertain future
by Linda Muttitt, Fort Langley, BC, Canada


“Feather touch”
watercolour painting
by Linda Muttitt

My father was very artistic, finding time from his meteorologist’s work to do some beautiful pencil and charcoal work. He wasn’t famous with his art, or even well-known, but his work has great importance, deep expression, and touched many lives. It was a way for me to see an internal world within my Dad that helped me understand him better. After my mother’s death, favourite works of my father’s were given out within our family, and then there are the others, still precious, but with no home. They sit unseen in a box – treasures with an uncertain future. Deciding how to deal with these works-of-heart is an extremely difficult task. It feels disrespectful to throw them out. Feels wrong to put them in a garage sale. I am at a loss.

There are 4 comments for Treasures with an uncertain future by Linda Muttitt

From: Anonymous — May 26, 2009

See if one of your father’s favorite charities would like the artwork for fundraising. This would be respectful and help a charity!

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — May 26, 2009

First, why not honor your father with a special show? Many museums and galleries will host such a show at a very reasonable cost, even helping out with publicity. It is clear you want to honor both your father’s memory and his art. Regardless of what you choose to do with his work after, such a show would get it out of the box and make it visible, with the added benefit of potentially enhancing its value to whoever who might want to acquire them (fundraisers, galleries, or collectors). Even if the paintings stay in the family, you will have the satisfaction and enjoyment of seeing them displayed.

From: Terry Albert — May 28, 2009

I had many of my mother’s oil paintings, and didn’t know what to do with them. I put out a letter to all my cousins and found homes for every one– each of my family members was thrilled to have a memento of her work.

From: Anonymous — Feb 02, 2012

Don’t you ever throw them out.




Warm light

oil painting, 28 x 22 inches
by Len Sodenkamp, ID, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes one anonymous subscriber, who wrote, “I am not a painter, but why burn your culls? Why not paint over them? saving the cost of a canvas and the saving the environment from the toxic fumes of burning paints?”

And also Edna Hildebrandt of Toronto, ON, Canada, who wrote, “It is hard to think of someone passing and disposing of his /her art, while the heirs discuss division of the estate. Oftentimes it causes a rift in families in their attempt to claim a certain work which everyone seems to want. It might be appropriate to include art work in the artist’s will explaining what should be done with them when he is gone.”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for What to do with Grandpa’s art?



From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — May 22, 2009

Exellent food for thought. I recently discovered that Van Gogh’s brother died shortly after he did. Van Gogh’s work was still unknown, and basically valueless. The widowed sister-in-law had nearly all his paintings.

She set about to market them, and seems to have been successful.

Hmm, I could use such a sister-in-law, but maybe before I die! We generally don’t enjoy doing this kind of planning, do we?

From: George Alles — May 22, 2009

Disposing of the art is one thing. Tax implications are another. Does the tax man have any say about destroying the art or gifting it, etc. What are the implications of your suggestions for the process of settling the estate?

From: Dan Cooper — May 22, 2009
From: Liz Reday — May 22, 2009

The Van Gogh story is instructive. His brother, Theodore, died not long after Vincent. Most of the paintings were in Theodore’s care since he had been sending Vincent money and trying to sell his work. The sweet sister-in-law is one of histories unsung heroines. It was she who gathered the paintings and began knocking on doors, showing his stuff to galleries and museums, tirelessly promoting Vincents work for years and years until he became the famous name we now know. Apart from a handful of artists, most people did not revere Vincent Van Gogh back then. Without this woman, his work could have been lost in the mists of history, moldering in a damp attic. May we all be so lucky to have such a sister-in-law! Let’s face it, we better get cracking now! All this lady had was a firm belief in her brother-in-law’s greatness and the tenacity to keep pitching his work at art dealers, gallery directors, museum curators and art collectors. This is no game for the faint hearted.

From: Gene Martin — May 22, 2009

My mother’s entire estate was passed to my brother, untaxed, by ros or right of survivorship. If something is jointly owned then the survivor owns the item. No taxes, no estate, nice and simple and very effective.

From: Dorenda Crager Watson — May 22, 2009

May I also respectfully request consider donating a work or two to your local art college or art trade school. I like to use tangible pieces when I teach because there is no distortion of color or brushwork…what you see is what they did! The students learn so much more from the actual piece than from the books they are printed in.

From: Laura Orchard — May 23, 2009

Several points here: I agree with Dorenda Crager Watson regarding donations. There is NOTHING like looking at the real thing for transmitting information to students.

Secondyly: Having performed my own bonfires in the past, I would recommend having some very trusted artist friends play a role in the selection of the refuse pile. My emotions were the ruling force then, and there are some pieces I now wish I had on hand.

Thirdly: A template version of your recommendations should be included in all Last Will and Testament boilerplate packets so that those non-artists who are left “holding the portfolio” have some sense of what to do. When my grandmother abandoned her furnished little apartment due to health reasons, she had no idea that she was leaving behind one of the two surviving paintings of my (very accomplished) great grandfather. Fortunately, I have the other.

From: Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart — May 24, 2009

I hope to leave my best narrative quilts to my family…if a donation comes from this process I would be happy…the future of the creative process appears to come when we share from our inner spirits. Imagine and Live in Peace, Mary Helen

From: Brad Greek — May 26, 2009

I’m still confused to the idea of destroying ones own work. Good or bad, it was created for a reason. I’ve had all of my work destroyed before, not a good feeling. Sure, when goofing around, experimenting with an idea or new medium, could possibly be painted over or thrown away. But to sign a piece and then trash it, hmmm, not in my game plan.

I couldn’t imagine being a marble sculptor and worked a year or two on a piece, then take a hammer to it because I felt it not worthy. The same goes with a painting. Who am I to say what is worthy, most artists can’t see the greatness or weaknesses in their own work anyways. LOL

So basically, you that are destroying your own work are just keeping the ones that YOU like. Most people don’t like the works that I like the most. Including my family. So I would be leaving them a collection of hated works.

A thought: Could it be that Vincent’s sister-in-law was just trying to recoupe some of the expenses that Theodore spent on Vincent. Greed can make one very motivated. I’m sure she wasn’t happy with Theo and their situation while Vincent was alive. Just a thought.

From: Marie B. Pinschmidt — May 26, 2009

Paintings are like people – you don’t miss them until they’re gone. I returned home one day to find my house flooded from a broken pipe. My first thought was for the damage done to my paintings stored in a closet and they were the first things I removed to a safe place. Regardless of their value – they’re a part of you.

From: Diane — May 26, 2009

There a couple other ways to deal with your works that will reduce the carbon foot print. Yes one should go through works to refine the the body of work.

How many pieces have been painted over?

My newest favorite form of disposal of works on paper is using them for mulch in the garden. Think about it. For one who has been spending years in life drawing sessions including those when attending school, there is a plethora of work that just doesn’t sing. Mulching that paper is a satisfying way to give back without adding to the carbon foot print we all leave and the tomatoes will become quite voluptuous as a result.

From: Gene Martin — May 26, 2009

A teacher of mine, John Torres, said several times that an art student viewing a retrospective would be discouraged viewing only an artist’s mature work. They need to see where you started and where you ended so they can say, “I am better than they at 20 and look where hard work took them. I can be better”.

From: Sandy — May 26, 2009

That mulch idea is great Diane.

From: Judy Palermo — May 27, 2009

Thanks for stating that it’s OK to ‘cull your art’; I’m just beginning, and haven’t gotten around to attempting to sell yet, and already am wondering ‘what do I do with all this?’. I would hate to be a pack rat, and don’t want to think that everything I do is so precious. My problem would be to judge which pieces are better than others; I already see in my local art group that some artists rank some of their pieces quite differently than the rest of us do, and I know I can’t look at my own work objectively enough. Usually its the work that took the most struggle that I favor, but that might also make it the least successful. Art sure is tough- right now if someone offers $25 apiece, I’d say take it!

From: Doreen C. Yates — May 27, 2009

I believe Mr. Martin is mistaken about artwork passing to heirs under right of survivorship without estate tax. However, the collection could easily escape detection or audit by the IRS. Only spouses can inherit with no tax under the marital deduction. Now just high value estates are currently taxed, however, since the exclusion is $3,500,000 this year.

I am not aware of laws in countries other than the U.S. Here it’s best to gradually give the works to family (value of $13,000 annually to each person) or donate to charity. In fact, the IRS has been more concerned with overvaluation of artwork for charitable donation purposes.

Hope this clarifies this issue.

From: Marj Vetter — Jun 05, 2009

Every so often, my daughter comes over and we have a sorting and burning day of sub standard art. She is a writer, but has a great eye for art. Nothing makes my blood curdle more than someone saying to me, don’t burn it, give it to me! God no…

From: Emerald — Jun 18, 2010

I’ve enjoyed giving unsigned, framed oils to thrift shops so others might enjoy art work too and it’s fun to wonder where they wind up:).

From: Mike — Aug 25, 2010

I am having a big art sale myself, to help me and others beat the credit crunch on ebay, hope it helps.



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