The Story of Online Art Gallery - When Artworks are a Click Away

Galleries in Focus

December 8, 2017

It's not rare to hear theories that the Internet and the online world may prove to be detrimental to traditional culture as the future unravels. Many seem to feel that way, especially those a bit older who grew up without the technological "commodities" the contemporary world is able to offer.

Be that as it may, it seems that the World Wide Web provided some stellar options for a few industries out there and the expansion of the online art gallery is the prime example of such a scenario.

Make no mistake, the Internet is frequently cast as the great enemy in the world of art galleries. However, this did not stop a lot of entrepreneurs from giving the online format a shot and many of them found a reasonable amount of success doing so.

Just five years ago, many galleries and auction houses were still skeptical of bringing collections online - today, however, this trend is really starting to catch on as an expanding number of predominantly mid-size gallery owners realized they can attract a lot of young and first-time buyers with an online art gallery.

Let's take a look at what made these projects successful and, as always, we'll give you some practical tips that should allow you to get an upper hand on the competitors.

A Generic Example of an Exhibbit 3D Online Art Gallery
A Generic Example of an Exhibbit 3D Online Art Gallery, via Wikipedia

The Numbers Do Not Lie

The annual surveys of the scene are constantly measuring the pulse of the art market, allowing us to have all the stats and information at our fingertips. The most recent studies show that the overall value of the online art trade can now be valued somewhere around £1.57 billion.

Furthermore, this number is likely to double by the time 2018 takes full swing! Osman Khan, co-founder of the New York-based Paddle8 online auction site, believes that the reason for the rise of the online art market is rather simple:

We have simply reached a tipping point. People feel more comfortable with the experience of buying expensive things like art online.

The Hiscox Online Art Trade Report, a respectable source of information when it comes to all art things online, did its own report on the matter.

According to their 2017 records, online sales represent around 9% of the overall art market. The report also predicts that online art galleries are far from their peak, so they expect them to not only continue to grow in popularity but to flourish in the next few years.

Although traditional galleries will definitely survive everything their online counterparts can throw at them, selling/buying art on the Internet is certainly looking at a bright future.

The Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2017

Pluses of an Online Art Gallery

There are many reasons why some owners prefer to run an online shop rather than a standard brick and mortar type of a gallery. One of the most common explanations is that it's simply a lot more practical - if you didn't notice, clicking is a fast action and, just like customers enjoy the overall speed of the format, so do owners of online galleries. Whatever they need changed or updated, it's all just a few simple clicks away.

Since people are still somewhat intimidated by commercial art galleries, choosing a stress-less online browsing option makes a lot of sense for many customers. From their perspective, this is usually the main reason why they prefer the Internet format of buying art[1].

A very selected few actually enjoy walking into a standard gallery and inquiring/negotiating in person - viewing and buying art from the comfort and safety of their own home is a lot more appealing to a majority of small or mid-size buyers.

Although running an online art gallery is far from a cheap business, you will feel a certain chill go down your back when you put the financial records of a website next to expenditures of a standard gallery. There's no rent, no security, no alarms, no fire protocols, no assurances, etc.

By eliminating entries from the bill list, online gallery owners are actually investing a lot less money into their projects and, as a result, significantly lower the risk bar.

Städel Museum Virtual Reality
Städel Museum of Virtual Reality, via

Further Advantages of Such a Business

When it comes to emerging young artists, naturally they are a lot more comfortable sending an email about their work than actually going to a place of business and pitching their art in person.

This means that online galleries are in a very good position to land emerging talented artists, which is considered to be the crème de la crème of the entire business. Keep in mind that, according to recent studies, young artists are actually getting poorer and poorer[2], so emails may be one of the very few options truly available to them.

Other noteworthy advantages of running an online format of a gallery are their overall wider reach, a lot of options when it comes to innovative approaches to presentation, easy makeovers, etc.

It should also be said that there are no limitations to the number of works you can display at any given time - you can easily have two or three separate gallery shows on one website, something that would require an entire museum floor to pull off in the real world!

Whakamīharo Lindauer Online Gallery
Whakamīharo Lindauer Online Gallery, via

The Main Issue of Selling Art Online

If we neglect the fact that some people are still not totally comfortable with buying art on the Internet, there's really just one real drawback that comes with running an online art gallery: the inability to see art in person.

Although a single problem, this issue is a legitimate concern - customers really can not see artworks in person when they shop online. However, it should be noted that viewing art on the Internet reached some impressive heights and the best platforms for selling art online (including our very own WideWalls marketplace) made great strides in cutting this corner.

It's all about presentation and, after all, the Internet is the be-all and end-all place for presenting pretty much anything you can come up with. Improvements in web programming techniques now allow full 360° overlook of a piece with zoom options powerful enough to examine texture or pigmentation, so it's safe to say we've reached a point where not being to actually see the artwork in person is really not a big deal anymore.

The Gallery of Lost Art, an online exhibition via the Tate Modern
The Gallery of Lost Art, an online exhibition via the Tate Modern, via

Tips For Running a Successful Online Gallery

In the business of running an online gallery that actually makes money, there are many of the same advices that work for regular galleries that apply here as well.

We won't bore you with basic tips too much, but we still gotta list them: always mind your reputation, make sure to set logical fees, carefully value your art, take care of long-term customers, make reasonable commissions and keep art fairs in mind. We'll also note that learning from other people's mistakes and successes[3] does wonders for any start-up and the same can be said here.

The first tip we've got for you is to be diverse. You should definitely take advantage of the format you've selected to do business in, so always have a rich and varied selection of artworks on your website.

Galleries of all kinds represent artists working in different media and genres, but due to the kind of presentation a website provides, online galleries are able to blend anything together and you should definitely take advantage of that fact.

There are some necessities of the web world that you should definitely take into account. In order to make it in this competitive universe, you need to have good programmers running your website. They will make sure your gallery is running on a good software infrastructure and on good servers. They will also take care of things like SEO and UX.

Also, we have to stress the importance of search filters - make sure you have the option of sorting your art based on things like size, medium, style, subject, location, artist and price. Don't forget about social media too as they already proved to be one of the most successful and profitable marketing strategies in the world of art.

Since you do not have any limitations on the amount of content your website hosts, you should really make things as detailed as possible. Knowing precise measures and other physical traits of an artwork may not be able to completely substitute the actual viewing of a piece, but it can definitely make browsing customers more comfortable with what you are offering. All of your main artists should have online catalogues raisonnés.

Maui Online Art Gallery
Maui Online Art Gallery, via

Small Fishes in a Big Ocean

With everything we've said above, it's fairly easy to come to a conclusion that things are obviously boomin’ in the online art world. New younger buyers are emerging as viable art collectors and, as all surveys show, a vast majority of them are ready to initially dip their toes with online galleries due to circumstances, prices and options.

While the game's top dogs like Saatchi and Christie’s are making a killing, there are countless smaller fish that are also doing rather well.

This is something you need to realize even if you are only entertaining an idea of launching an online art gallery - it is a vast ocean full of competitors and, to make things even harder, customers tend to go back to already used services.

This could make running an art gallery that's new on the market a nightmarish experience.

But, do not despair - good art and a lot of effort always go a long way, so there's no reason not to be optimistic about your future online art gallery. Just keep your eye on the ball, get armed with patience and keep in mind our advice, and you should do just fine.


  1. McCarthy, B., 5th August 2017, How online art galleries are serving up talent — and sales — without the 'tude, LA Times [Nov 30, 2017]
  2. Gerlis, M., 30th November 2017, Artists are getting poorer, The Art Newspaper [Nov 30, 2017]
  3. Anonymous, 2017, Selling Your Art Online: Advice from Online Gallery Leaders, The Abundant Artist [Nov 30, 2017]
  4. Featured images: Buying Art Onilne, via; A Virtual 3D Gallery, via; A Custom Gallery Template Made With Exhibbit, via All images used for illustrative purposes only.