The Anatomy of a Work of Art Get better acquainted with some of the most common fine art mediums available in the market today.

The Anatomy of a Work of Art

Understanding the types of works available at auction is paramount to your success as a collector. Get better acquainted with some of the most common fine art mediums available in the market today.


Original paintings are one-of-a-kind works executed by the hand of the artist typically composed of oil paint, acrylic paint, watercolor or gouache. A vast array of paintings by both emerging and established artists can be found at auction, spanning a variety of artistic periods, movements and styles.

Sought-after painters include renowned masters Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner; modern artists Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Pablo Picasso; and contemporary artists Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Alice Neel, Lisa Yuskavage and Jenny Saville.


Emerging technology in the 19th century enabled the development of photography – catapulting one of the most widely used image-making devices into circulation and radically changing the course of art history. From early daguerreotypes to experimental works by living artists, photography is a diverse field. Artists in demand today include Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Robert Frank, Ansel Adams, Sally Mann, and Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Newly available large-scale printers in the 20th and 21st centuries enabled contemporary photographers like Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Cindy Sherman, Candida Höfer, and Thomas Ruff to experiment with unprecedented scale, leading to the emergence of new editions of grander size. Types of photographs include silver gelatin, toned, archival digital and cibachrome prints (C-prints), which are produced in editions of various sizes.


Drawings can be a great place to start collecting original works of art because they are usually more economical than paintings but still hold tremendous artistic and academic value. Some drawings serve as studies for an important painting by the artist and hold great value in revealing the earliest manifestation of the artist’s idea, while others are fully-executed compositions. Traditional drawing materials include graphite, charcoal, India ink, pastel and chalk.


Prints and multiples – including lithographs, etchings, and woodcuts – are a great way for new buyers to begin collecting. These images are typically produced on paper and in set quantities that range from limited editions to expansive series. Typically, the smaller the number of editions the more valuable each edition becomes.

While printmaking techniques have evolved over time, the process has generally remained the same: the artist creates an impression on a carved surface (wood, stone, metal, rubber, etc.), applies ink or color, and transfers the image in ink the surface to a sheet of paper.


Sculptures are available in all sizes and materials including marble, wood, stone and various metals. A sculpture’s value may depend on the edition size of a sculpture, its material, and its maker.