Tinus de Jongh in the Dutch National Archives
The Value of Prints
The art print market is one where signatures count for a lot, and hundreds of artists have gotten on the bandwagon. An artist’s name on a print can increase the price by two or more times, and creators generally view signing and numbering works as a valuable source of income for themselves.
In some cases, the entire economic value of a print is in the signature. Salvador Dali and Marc Chagall both signed blank pieces of paper on which reproductions of their most famous works were to be made. Picasso’s granddaughter, Marina, published a series of the artist’s prints to which she signed her name (her signature, it was said, looked remarkably like Picasso’s). In all of these instance, the artists never saw the finished prints but, still, the prints sell at prices that lead one to assume they are original works of art in some way.
An original print- where an artist worked on it himself, tends to have a longer lasting value than a photographic reproduction. An etching, for instance, requires an artist to draw an image onto a metal plate with a stylus an acid bath later burns the design into the metal, and impressions are taken from that. Picasso made several thousand of them; it was a medium in which he chose to express himself, and one can assume that had he preferred to paint the image he would have.
A lithograph is also classified as an original work, because the artist must draw directly onto a metal plate or a stone with a crayon or greasy pencil, printers ink is then rolled onto the image, adhering only to the drawn areas. Engravings, linoleum cuts, woodcuts and silkscreen prints (serigraphs) are, too, viewed as originals when created by the artist. There are additionally reproductive prints in which an artist or craftsman makes an etching or lithograph from a painting done by someone else. Editions of this kind were done for a number of major artists of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The tradition of artists signing their prints is less than a hundred years old — before that, artists often used monograms. Artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard would sign some and not others, depending on the wishes and ego of the collector. They often signed works as they sold them and those for which there was no demand in the artists’ lifetime went unsigned.
The convention of artists signing all of the prints in an edition at one time is more recent and is generally said to date from the 1930s when a Paris dealer, Leo Spitzer, convinced a few of the major artists of the day (including Matisse and Picasso) to produce elegant reproductions of their work that they would sign and he would sell.
“A Picasso with a signature may be worth twice as much as one without a signature,” said Mark Rosen, former head of the print department at Sotheby’s, which sells approximately thousands of prints per year with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to over $100,000. “Chagall did a series of prints called ‘Daphne and Chloe’ and those that are signed are worth 10 times as much as those that are unsigned.”
Most artists are well aware that their signature means more money for their works. Picasso did one series of etchings in the 1930s called “The Vollard Suite” that he started signing in the 1950s and ‘60s as a way of increasing contributions for left-wing political causes he championed. Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth signed a series of prints, respectively, to help support the museums featuring their work
An artist’s signature also attests to the work’s authenticity.
Prints are a good way to start an art collection as their relatively low price means that one can build up a collection of work by a number of artists and over the years one will start to get a sense of which artist that you support are doing well on the art market. Original prints allow one to hedge your bets and spread your risk.