In general, the artist worked directly on the stone, plate, linoleum or woodblock; a printer often does the actual printing, although many artists have operated the high-pressure etching, lithography and woodblock engraving presses themselves or were involved directly in the printing process.
Many artists, such as Rembrandt Harmenz van Rijn (known as "Rembrandt" today), and his contemporary, Adriene van Ostade, had pupils complete the drypoint sketch and produce the print. Ostade's printing was notably wretched, although his plates were beautifully executed; therefore we specialize in slightly posthumous bistre (a sort of Indian Red colored ink) impressions produced by a pupil shortly after his death.
In the case of Rembrandt -- who speculated in his own prints on the secondary auction market in the 1600's and made a large fortune doing so -- his etching plates, at least 200 of them, survived his death, and were retouched by Watelet, Basan and Jean, and some are held by museums today, as are plates made by Goya, Renoir and Degas.
One can easily determine which "state" of the etching plate produced the impression, and the market price is dependent on how early the print was taken, because an etching plate is quickly worn down by the printing process, losing the "burr" and drypoint of the fresh plate.
Even the most well-informed print collector may not know that Degas never produced etchings for the market; for him, etching was a hobby in an experimental mood. Thus, his lifetime etchings amounted to generally only a dozen or so, drawing a proof at each change, or "state" of the etching plate. His plates were often reworked Daguerreotype plates, some with the familiar rounded corners, some not. For more about what happened to his etchings, click here.
Other Old Masters of the 16th-18th century such as Gauguin, Goya, van Velde and Ruisdael pulled the prints themselves. Gauguin only employed a printer when producing the few etchings he experimented with before moving to Tahiti where he produced a few woodcuts, which are now exceedingly rare.
In modern times, artists seldom do their own printing; John Cage, Barry Moser, Elsworth Kelly, Andrew Warhola (he is now known as Andy Warhol), Frank Stella, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Jackson Pollock, Joan (pronounced like "Juan") Miro, Picasso, Salvadore Dali, Pierre-August Renoir, Louis Lozowick, Mary Cassatt, Alberto Giacometti, Robert Indiana, Reginald Marsh, Henri Matisse, Andre Masson, the Soyer brothers and many others all used some of the greatest lithographic and etching printers of their day, but they themselves prepared the plates, working directly into them with crayon, brush and spatter.
Knowing exactly how many prints were produced, of what quality, how many states, being able to easily determine the state of a print, what the provenance of the impression is, which is to say, being able to track it back to the artist's studio, and knowing how many copies of that particular print are still on the open market and what their precise market value would be today, is the province of the print expert, and that's exactly what we are.
You have probably seen offerings of "signed original" prints by every artist we have mentioned and more on popular online auction sites. Well, the fact is that a pencil signature is easy to add to an unsigned print. This actually reduces the value of the print, as does any alteration, in the same way that any antique's value is reduced by repair.
Here is an example of how easy it is to reproduce faithfully virtually any pencil-signature of any artist. I have placed a number of signatures below a childlike drawing:
If a print is damaged, repaired, crimped, overly trimmed, creased, soiled, spotted, foxed, or in any other way reduced in value, we reduce the price accordingly, as any ethical print dealer would do. This is not the case in online auctions where you are buying a "pig in a poke". Even at high-level auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christies, the print experts often miss what the careful print dealer will not. We have in hand a Rembrandt that passed in 1947 through a high-level auction house as genuine; we keep it framed and tagged "Not For Sale" in our gallery to show how mistakes can happen.
If we should make a mistake, we make it good. Every major dealer and auction house absolutely unconditionally guarantees the authenticity of a print as specified in the description, and of course, so do we. Any ethical art dealer takes pride in exactitude of description; we put a lot of effort into the research of every piece we sell, as do most of our associates in the print dealing world. There are hundreds of wonderful, ethical art dealers out there, and we delight in being counted among them. We are very well known in the art and antiquarian book market, and are proud of our 45 year reputation.
When buying anything, always remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There simply is no solid gold Rolex watch for $1 no reserve. As W.C. Fields put it, "You can't cheat an honest man". Just because someone sells a work of art out of their garage doesn't mean you're going to find a long-lost multi-million-dollar painting or print. If someone really had an original Picasso, Dali, Rembrandt or Renoir painting, why would they put it up in an online auction? Even if they were desperate for cash, they could get it appraised by a reputable appraiser (appraisers, by the way, are ethically prevented from being dealers, just as GIAA diamond appraisers are never diamond dealers) and get a secured bank-loan, so don't be fooled. The chances are almost 100% that it is an altered piece.
Quite often, prints such as those published by Mourlot, Verve, XXe Siecle, and Maeght Editeurs, were produced in two forms; one in periodical format, cut to the plate, and a second, much smaller, run of around 150 that were full-margin and pencil signed and numbered by the artist. Both are equally fun to collect, and we actually prefer to recommend the periodical version. Why?
Because dollar-for-dollar, the values are about the same in resale, and sometimes better than the pencil-signed version. Secondly, the pencil-signed is almost always subject to counterfeiting, while the cheaper print, with text verso, is typically bypassed by forgers. There are some exceptions, such as the two forged editions of the Lassaigne Chagall book.
Just a short word about forgeries; the art world abounds with them, and there are only a few ways to avoid them. The most obvious is to avoid prints which are commonly forged, such as Dali prints...yet, if one wants a Dali print, one must wade through the mountains of counterfeits to find the good ones, and they are out there. It takes a serious amount of research to separate the wheat from the chaff, however, so in the case of Dali, we simply offer all Dali prints as "attributed to" Dali, with the exception of the early etchings, which were obtained prior to the rash of forgeries in the 1970's and onward.
The real bargain in the art market is simply the delight in owning a wonderful piece of art which is limited in quantity, just as with any collectible.
It is also nice to be able to sell or trade it later at a higher price, if and when you want to upgrade your collection. Good art collectors, just like collectors of coins, stamps, automobiles, butterflies, dolls, model trains, miniatures and antiques will often "trade up" their collection as they become more experienced and sophisticated in their area of interest.
We heartily recommend reading books on art collecting; there are many good ones out there, and you should become familiar with the entire field and market before venturing into it; even then, as competent as you might become, one is still dependent on the ethics and integrity of the art dealer, and that's what we try to provide for our tens of thousands of satisfied customers; many of our clients have traded artworks with us (we buy as well as sell) and we have thousands of repeat customers.
Do we sell in online auctions? Of course we do; every art dealer must, these days -- but extreme caution is indicated, which is called in the trade "due diligence". We absolutely guarantee unconditionally that every item we offer is exactly as stated. This is a "Lifetime" guarantee, meaning that if a qualified expert disagrees in writing with our description at any time, we will refund on the item, provided it is returned in exactly the same condition as it was when sold.
In the art market, as with any collectible, condition is everything. All other considerations, even the name and reputation of the artist, are secondary. But as you educate yourself in the wonderful field of art collecting, you will discover this for yourself.
We encourage you to shop around, check out other dealers, go to auctions (not, of course, onboard cruise auctions, unless you want to get totally ripped-off) at high-level auction houses (some auction houses such as Butterfield's do not guarantee the descriptions, nor do they have experts inspect the items before the sale). We are interested in developing a relationship with our clients, and are half-collectors and half-dealers. Art is our life and we hope you will make it more than just a passing hobby.
One more word about art values; there is no such thing as investment grade art. Just like stocks and bonds, art values go up, but they can also go down. It's nice when the art market values rise, as they are doing today, but it also makes buying more difficult. Pieces are scarcer and thus more expensive. You might sell your house for more money than you paid, but if your next house is equally higher in cost, you have not really made a net value upgrade.
Nobody can tell you what the value of a work of art will be next year or next week, but one thing the competent print dealer can tell you, that the casual seller cannot: the relative scarcity of that print or painting. As pieces disappear into institutions such as museums or major collections, the number of available pieces is reduced, thus generally the market rises. We have auction records for prints going back to the mid-18th century and can track the value of a given print or major painting through the centuries. While it is true that in general values go up, there are, just as in any market from stocks to cars, peaks and troughs.
The general rule is: buy what you like at a price that you can afford and that seems reasonable given the current market values.
Enjoy your stay with us here in our online gallery; if you are in the Northern California area, by all means drop in and see us. We always have at least 50,000 works of art and antiquarian books to browse through and we will make every effort to make your art collecting experience a lasting and joyful one.