Santa Claus


Dear Artist,

A subscriber wrote, “I received a call from someone that had seen my work in a gallery. Then she bought a piece from my web page and I mailed it. I called the gallery to tell them the good news and let them know that I owed them some money. Our agreement is 50-50. I told them how much I owed them and they said they’ll take it off my next check. Great! Yesterday, I got a call from a neighbor of this art buyer, and the neighbor bought a painting as well. Should I also credit the gallery another 50% from the neighbor’s purchase? Both paintings were on my website, and not at the gallery.”


“Santa at Christmas Mall” 1930
oil painting
by Haddon Sundblom (1899-1976)

It looks like old Santa’s really coming down that gallery’s chimney this season. Perhaps you might think about a more sliding scale in future. In my dealings, kickbacks to galleries for private sales range from 50% to 10%. It’s my point of view that an artist needs to take control of this part of the business. You need to write the gallery commission cheques yourself — not get it done by them. For a gallery that arranges for the customer to either come to the artist’s studio or to buy direct — then the full fifty is justified. Less connected and second generation sales where you do all the work, framing, shipping, etc, deserve a lower percentage. Also, some galleries put in a terrific effort to advertise, feature, and actively promote, and they should be rewarded. Galleries that only bring your stuff out when asked deserve less.


“Whispering in Santa’s Ear”
oil painting
by Haddon Sundblom

Furthermore, where an artist has more than one gallery it may be difficult to attribute the origin of interest. It’s one of the ironies of the business that sometimes you’re sold in one gallery and bought in another. Fortunately for galleries, and yourself, this works all ways. When a customer wants to meet you and claims to get a kick out of buying direct, you have to watch out for those who only want a “deal.” Be firm. As there is little or no advantage for a customer to deal direct, you might preserve your private joy and precious muse by sending them to one of your galleries.

Being generous with your galleries is an excellent idea. Great friendships need to be nurtured and maintained. But it’s an inexact art, and conditions vary. Always remember that you are the chief elf up there making the good stuff. And it’s the nature of dealers to be both naughty and nice.


“Santa Warming his Feet”
oil painting
by Haddon Sundblom

Best regards,


PS: “No man will work for your interests unless they are also his.” (David Seabury) “No great collection was ever formed without a dealer.” (Gil Edelson)

Esoterica: Because situations are generally in a state of change, long-term contracts can be troublesome. For artists and dealers an understanding is better than a rigid set of clauses. It’s better to go for mutual caring and try to prove it up with regular deeds. Extreme generosity when written into a contract is called a Santa Clause.


This letter was originally published as “Santa Claus” on December 21, 2004.


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Enthusiasm is the best protection in any situation. Wholeheartedness is contagious.” (David Seabury)




  1. Santas Magic

    Santas magic lives Forever
    In the red passion of life
    In the white purity beard of joy
    In his Ho Ho Ho laughter
    Children want to be young and free
    Same as we
    Touch Christmas
    Gift of Heart
    Paula Timpson

    • Interesting and informative article. I’d certainly have a different set of rules for those who found me through a gallery. But of course I’d want the gallery to be remunerated from the first party’s purchase, but for the follow on buyer it would be a generosity gesture and so no higher than 10%..

  2. How about this situation: I own a painting by a local artist who shows in a local gallery. About ten years ago the artist gave me the painting in exchange for some landscaping. I am tired of the painting and want to sell it. Is there a problem with me doing so?

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