Printmaking has been popular for a long time, but interest has increased in recent years because prints are an affordable art form accessible to all without sacrificing quality. Here’s why.
The history of printmaking begins with wood engraving. A method that, under the direction of Albrecht Dürer in the late 1400s and early 1500s, rose to the rank of the noblest arts. New technologies have subsequently been developed, such as copper engraving, which has resulted in even finer and more detailed illustrations.
In the 17th century, the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens, with a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit, brought engravers into his studio and had them make copies of his works, which would be duplicated and sold, an initiative that is close to current reproduction techniques. Rubens also established one of the first versions of the concept of copyright in reproduction.
The term "print" thus combines several printing techniques, including engraving (on metal, on wire wood, end wood, chisel, etching, aquatint ...), lithography, glass-cliché, monotype and serigraphy. These practices are based on the use of a matrix in relief, either hollow or flat. The original prints, although multiple, were made from a matrix created by the artist himself, unlike the print reproduction. And at the end of the 19th century, the print number and the signature of the artist began to appear on these works on paper.
Prints are a less expensive way to acquire works by artists whose works reach millions at auction. Take David Hockney, who in November 2018 became the most expensive living artist at the time when Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for $90.3 million. But a lithograph signed by the British artist entitled Olympic Diver, dating from 1970, can be found on Barnebys for just over $3,000.
“It is a medium whose techniques are extraordinarily varied,” says Gaël Bordet, a prolific prints collector and Barnebys user. “Like sculpture, one can also collect the different states of work (sometimes available in very few proofs, and all the more valuable), and thus have the successive phases of an artist, follow the path of their thought or reflections and their research on the subject, akin to inviting yourself in the workshop of the master!”
According to Barnebys price bank, other big names such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Lucio Fontana and Joan Miró, to name a few, are represented in prints with works sold at affordable prices. A lithograph of Toulouse-Lautrec entitled Moulin Rouge: the Franco-Russian Union (1894) sold for $3,100 at auction, an aquatint lithography of Fontana, Concetto Spaziale (1968), achieved $2,700, while another of Miró, O da to Joan Miró (1973) found a buyer for $3,100.
"It's been a long time since prints have been in fashion, but we can see a renewed interest in recent years," said Pontus Silfverstolpe, co-founder of Barnebys. "The major auction houses have seen increasing print auctions, a trend which has passed on to smaller auction houses. Modern artists such as Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Edvard Munch still have the highest ratings of course, but the prices of several contemporary artists tend to increase too, like Banksy or David Hockney."
This affordable medium makes it possible to acquire prints across many themes. Among the prolific print artists is Rembrandt, who produced many etchings depicting biblical scenes. His works appear regularly in the auction market, as evidenced by The Triumph of Mordecai, which sold for 5,000 euros. Other major print artists include Charles-François Daubigny, Felix Bracquemond, Andre Derain and Marie Laurencin, whose prints are coming into the spotlight.
Prints help beautify and personalize an interior. Sometimes offered for sale starting at just $40, these works will appeal to both the amateur and seasoned collector.
"The younger generation is becoming more and more enthusiastic about the collection," says Silfverstolpe. "There are prints in all price ranges, and they are both an elegant and accessible way to decorate your home with quality art."
Start your print collection on Barnebys here