Introduction to Sales Within Galleries

Selling art is essential to the industry and, subsequently, it represents one of the art world’s most prestigious and highly desired jobs. The value of art depends on its status as an artefact of cultural or historical importance, an object of aesthetic brilliance, or a financial asset. A role in sales therefore requires a deep understanding of these values, as well as an up-to-date knowledge of the desires and trends of an elite and international market of buyers. 

Credit: Edgar Chaparro 

For candidates applying for sales roles, the most valuable attribute is an established client network. This can be developed by working through the hierarchy of a larger gallery, starting in a position that supports more senior members of the team in order to learn under the mentorship of an experienced professional.

Alternatively, smaller galleries can provide a sound and supportive environment for professional development where teams are less crowded and there is more opportunity to engage with clients who might otherwise already be covered in a larger environment. 

When recruiting new sales staff, galleries look for candidates who can help them reach collectors in new markets, often defined by geography. Galleries seeking to expand their international reach are often keen to bring in staff who understand and can speak the language of the local market.  

Credit: Samuel Zeller 

As we have often cited: the art world is still notoriously opaque when it comes to disclosing details about pay, promotions, and opportunities. However, referencing our 2023 Art Market Salary Report in the Art Newspaper, Anna Brady shared: “it is the sales departments that take home the most—UK senior sales directors are on between £213,000-£250,000 while partners in the US can command $400,000 or more.” 

In the context of commercial galleries, commission is awarded on direct and quantifiable sums the individual has generated for the company. It is typically employees whose job involves securing sales, securing consignments, and engaging new artists.    

The ways in which commission is calculated varies widely. Employees are typically offered 10% of net profit on all sales and any secondary market consignments that result in a sale. However, some galleries employ a sales quota that must be met before sales transactions are commission eligible.  

Typically, deductions are applied to gross figures for artist’s commission, discounts, third-party fees, local taxes, and resale rights, as well as the costs of production and fabrication, framing and display, promotion, and shipping. Some galleries also operate profit-sharing schemes in an effort to promote a shared sense of success among staff. At senior levels, such schemes are also used to ensure effective management and performance.   

Where commercial galleries do not offer employees variable pay, they may instead offer a higher base salary in order to maintain a competitive edge in a space where commissions can exponentially increase base salaries.  

Commercial Gallery (Sales) Salaries in the United Kingdom. Source: SML Art Market Salary Report 2023

Commercial Gallery (Sales) Salaries in the United States. Source: SML Art Market Salary Report 2023

Embarking on a career in commercial gallery sales offers a unique opportunity to foster meaningful connections between artists, art and collectors. Ultimately, it calls for a deep understanding of the art world to shape the dynamic between creativity and commercial success. 

SML and Commercial Galleries (Sales) 

Sales hires, from Assistant through to Partner, have been a mainstay of our work over the past 20 years. Finding the right candidate requires an in-depth knowledge of our client’s business (markets, specialisms, clients, etc.), their culture, and their teams. A successful placement hinges on a huge variety of factors, ranging from a strong sales track record and network that are aligned with commercial goals, to a personality fit that will allow for both independent and collaborative success. Consequently, search processes can be extensive, often demanding considerable dedication from all parties involved, given the nuanced and crucial nature of achieving the best fit. However, it is precisely for this reason that making the perfect match is so rewarding. 

Useful Resources


Image Credits

  • Edgar-Chaparro 
  • Samuel Zeller