Monday, 25 September 2006

Picasso - pictures for the price of a print

Lot 143
by Christopher Proudlove©
It's possible to pick up a Pablo Picasso print on an Internet site selling posters for £7.99. At the time of writing, a quick check on eBay revealed around 300 currently up for auction, some with a "Buy It Now" option for as little as £4.99. They were all probably printed yesterday. How then do you explain the fact that the print with the lady riding sidesaddle illustrated here sold for £1,650. Or indeed that the other two, at the foot of this page, fetched just £700 and £620 respectively. What makes the conundrum even more difficult to understand is that the auctioneer estimated the value of each of them before the sale at £200-300.

No, I don't know either, but I have a theory. At the spring sale of Impressionist art at Sotheby's in New York, Picasso's portrait of his mistress Dora Maar with her black cat perched on her shoulder sold for £51.6 million. The price that was more than twice the estimate and made the work the second most expensive painting in auction history. The ripple effect spread across the entire art market and Picassos flooded onto the market, one dealer reportedly taking 25 of the artist's works to Switzerland's Art Basel fair last week and selling three of them on the first day.

London's blockbuster Impressionist sales in June were awash with them as owners tried to cash in their investments. At Sotheby's, two of the top 10 most valuable paintings in the sale were by Picasso: an oil on canvas titled The Painter and His Model, done in 1963, sold for £7.4 million, while an oil on board painted in 1901 and showing elegantly dressed racegoers, titled "Les Courses à Auteuil", sold for £2.6 million.

Perhaps it was coincidence that the trio of Picasso prints appeared in a provincial sale when they did, but they were received enthusiastically and made the estimates look woefully inadequate. The three coloured lithographs came from the artist's "Toros Y Toreros" (Bulls and Bullfighters" Series and were titled respectively: “The Bull Ring of Arles”; “The Bull Fight” and “Jacqueline on horseback”.

Picasso’s fascination with the bullfight started when he was a young boy in Malaga. His childhood notebooks from school are filled with sketches of matadors, bullrings, and picadors. Interestingly, the first oil ever created by the young artist was of a matador (1889-1890) and the bullfight remained an important theme that Picasso continued to explore throughout his creative years.

Naturally, a unique work by Picasso is out of the reach of all but the mega-rich, but prints remain affordable - at least for the time being. But there are prints and there are prints. The three illustrated dated from the 1950s and were early impressions of limited editions which in each case numbered just 125. And most importantly, they were signed by the artist himself. This fact alone confers huge significance on the value. Literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Picasso prints are in existence, but not all of them bear his signature which in effect, was his seal of approval.

The trio were originally retailed by the London dealers Templeton & Rawling, whose gallery was based in Kendal Street W2. Each print was accompanied by its authentication certificate, and all three were framed and ready to hang on the wall. Each was a potential prize for a Picasso aficionado with champagne taste but beer pocket money.

Dramatic image

Most valuable of the three, "Jacqueline on Horseback" was an early number 27 in the edition. Another clue to its significance was the impressed the date on the plate which read 10.3.59. "The Bullfight", also numbered 27 in the edition, was an altogether more dramatic image, showing the matador being tossed head over heels by the bull which stands on its hind legs. It sold for £700, while the altogether more childlike and sketchy "The Bullring of Arles", again number 27 in the edition, was cheapest and £620.

Clearly, there is more to buying Picasso prints than it first might appear. Picasso was a prolific printmaker, using all the different techniques to master the art. His lithographs, etchings, drypoints, lino cuts, woodcuts and aquatints were all experiments aimed at pushing the boundaries further and further. Indeed, some of Picasso's graphic works are combinations of several techniques, which really tested his printmaker's skills.

A series of 15 drypoints and etchings called Les Saltimbanques (The street acrobats) were Picasso's first venture into printmaking in 1905 and the results were published by the dealer Vollard in 1913. More followed in the early 1930s but it was not until after the Second World War that most of Picasso's prints were created.

From 1945 to 1949 he produced a massive body of about 200 lithographs working in close co-operation with Henri Deschamps, a professional printmaker from the Mourlot studio, a renowned art publisher and print workshop in Paris.

Prices vary wildly. In May this year, Christie's New York sold an etching and aquatint done in 1938 and titled "Girl with Tambourine" for £401,800. It was signed in pencil and numbered number 17 from an edition of 30, but as we have seen, 1950s signed Picasso prints can be purchased for a fraction of the price.

Prints from large editions, made after the artist's death and obviously therefore unsigned, but still by skilled printmakers copying his drawings as their base material are still highly collectable though not necessarily good vehicles for investment. The ones to avoid are those that purport to have been signed by the master but whose signatures are also copies and engraved onto the plates from which the prints are produced.

Or you could just buy them anyway because they look great in any trendy minimalist setting when framed and hung together. And when you get bored with them you simply throw them away and replace them with new, cheap alternatives.

Pictures show, top: "Jacqueline on horseback”, which sold for £1,650

Above, left: "The Bull Ring of Arles", which sold for £620 and "The Bull Fight", which sold for £700

Lot 141Lot 142

numly esn 75955-060925-676689-46

© 2006 All Rights Reserved.

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Anonymous harry said...

where do you suggest I look to try and get the best price for hand signed picasso ?

I live in the U.S.

Thank you

13 January 2008 at 02:24  
Anonymous melinda said...

where do you suggest I look to try and get the best price for hand signed picasso ?

I have the same question

22 January 2008 at 16:27  
Anonymous maryjo said...

just for your info. if you find something in the usa you want to purchase, but arent sure of the authenticity. go to perhaps the best signature/autograph verification service in the usa ( he works for the govt.). he can do it online before you buy the item, then in person in order to grade the signature for value. hope that helps:), maryjo

6 September 2009 at 20:47  
Anonymous Peter said...

I own a Picasso lithograph that might be worth some $$$. This was given as a gift in the late 60's. Where can I go to get this appraised? I live in San Jose, California USA

11 August 2010 at 20:54  

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