• Philipp Zünd, Partner |
  • Rinaldo Neff, Director |

Principles for the taxation of art

Works of art can be admired in many places, including in many private households. There they play an important role in the individual furnishing and decoration of flats and houses. Works of art can even take on such a self-evident role as a table or armchair, which makes them easy to forget when filling the tax return. 

Whether an art object is relevant for tax purposes and must therefore be declared in the tax return depends heavily on the type of art owned and the specific context. In this context, a distinction must be made between tax-exempt general household goods and taxable assets. While an ordinary table or an armchair can clearly be assigned to household effects as objects of daily use and are thus not relevant for tax purposes, a more differentiated consideration is required for works of art. 

An object of art that has a purely decorative purpose and was not created by a well-known artist can generally be classified as household effects that are not relevant for tax purposes. 

If, on the other hand, the work of art has an obviously valuable or value-enhancing character, it should generally be considered in the tax return as an asset. In practice, the distinction between tax-exempt household effects and taxable assets must always consider the context, in particular the economic situation of the owner. Thus, in the case of wealthy persons, individual works of art can be assigned to household effects despite a high value, since they are in proportion to the wealth situation of this person. In any case, there is no clear value limit in tax law as to when a work of art must be declared in the tax return. 

Declaration of works of art

If a work of art must be declared in the tax return, the question arises as to its market value for tax purposes. Determining the market value of art can be very difficult in practice. On the one hand, because works of art can increase in value considerably over time and thus the purchase price does not necessarily reflect the effective asset value. On the other hand, because each work of art is to a certain extent unique, there is no actual market value that could be used as a basis for valuation. An important indication of the asset value of a work of art is therefore the insurance value of the object and, in the case of a recent acquisition, the purchase price or the sale price of comparable works of art. 

Hobbyism and commercial art trade

A further important distinction must be made between hobby collecting and commercial trading in art.

If a private individual is very interested in art and deals with it intensively in his or her free time, but only owns a small art collection that is commensurate with the economic circumstances and was acquired with the intention of owning it for the long term, it is more likely to be a hobby. This applies even if works of art are sold from time to time. Works of art that someone owns as a hobby are subject to wealth tax according to the above principles. Profits from the sale of individual works of art are in principle tax-free.

If the sales and purchases of art go beyond those of a hobby, this may qualify as commercial art trading. An indication of this is a short holding period of works of art, as well as a high frequency of transactions from purchase and sale. In this case, the profits made from the sale of works of art are no longer tax-free but are subject to income tax and social security contributions. 

Conclusion

All owners of art should critically examine whether the art must be declared in the tax return. In case of doubt, the motto is to transparently disclose the ownership of art in the tax return and explain why it counts as household effects and is not subject to wealth tax. Should the declaration of art have been mistakenly not made in the past, the submission of a voluntary self-declaration should be considered. Otherwise, in the event of discovery by the tax authorities, there is the threat of subsequent and criminal tax proceedings, which, in addition to subsequent taxes, will also result in a fine.  

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