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Alternative InvestmentsWritten by
Editor, Antiques Trade Gazette,
business analyst and media pundit.Have you ever fancied owning a Henry Moore, a Bridget Riley or a David Hockney? The idea may not be as far-fetched as you think, if you turn your attention to the great British tradition of printmaking.
From the early years of the 20th Century right up until the present day, some of the best artists – many of them household names – have complemented their major works in oil and other media with a rich portfolio of prints. The result has been a highly active market which has boomed in recent years and still holds huge potential for the small investor.
Several artists have turned to printmaking as a specialty, and there are some, such as C.R.W. Nevinson or the leading lights of the Grosvenor School, whose works can sell in the high tens of thousands of pounds these days.
Not everyone has mastered the transfer to prints – and even those who have can see a wide range of prices for their works. However, study each artist fairly closely and it soon becomes apparent what attracts buyers… and what puts them off.
The great names in Modern British prints are often also celebrated sculptors: Eric Gill, Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick, Barbara Hepworth and Elisabeth Frink all come to mind. As sculptors they tend to be masters of the editioning process, bringing to bear their sculptural craftsmanship, and this lends itself well to the production of prints.
Big names also tend to enjoy a solid collecting base for their other works, so their prints can prove popular too.
Other artists, such as Eric Ravilious and Victor Pasmore, are sought after partially because they were masters of the printmaking process, dedicating a great deal of their time to it. If an artist has been closely involved in the process and used one of the more talented printmakers, their work is usually of higher quality and more desirable.
Some collectors seek a representative range of a single artist, such as Terry Frost. Others may look for a cross-section of work by a number of artists or within a particular school of art. Serious investors tend to play it safe when markets are more volatile, seeking out typical works in the right medium by leading names.
The way a print is made can have a significant effect on its value. For example, if what is known as the intaglio process is used, such as with etchings, aquatints, mezzotints and engravings, the print plate tends to wear out after about 100 impressions. This means editions are more limited.
Drypoints, another intaglio process, also have limited runs because the softening of the image caused by a burr effect either side of the line wears out after a few prints. The more limited the edition, the more valuable it is – it's a matter of rarity, quality, supply and demand.
Composition, subject matter, colour, decorative appeal and other artistic elements also tend to inform collecting.
Understanding the printmaking process can add to your enjoyment, when choosing who and what to collect. And the best thing is that you don't have to risk huge sums to get started.COMPOSITION, SUBJECT
AND OTHER ARTISTIC
ELEMENTS TEND TO
TOP TIPS FOR POTENTIAL COLLECTORS
Graphic quality, range of colours, composition and date can all affect values.
Condition is often important: folding, scuff marks, cropping of margins, scratches, tears and creases can all create problems. Has the colour faded? How white is the paper?
Works should preferably be signed, dated and numbered, e.g. 4/50, which indicates that it is print four from a limited edition run of 50.
Focus on limited editions of 250 or fewer. Anything more is not considered particularly rare.
Some collectors will seek out low numbers from an edition run, but these are not necessarily as important as they do not reflect the order in which the prints were made, just the order in which the artist signed them.
Evidence that the print has been produced by a well-known printer or studio, such as an embossed imprint, can also add to its allure.
Look for typical works by leading artists, where there is a large gap between prices for their prints and their masterworks, as these can indicate significant growth potential for values.
Does the artist have a catalogue raisonné? This is a kind of collector's guide to every known piece they have ever produced. These can be fairly expensive, but they can provide a shortcut in building up knowledge.
Go online and look at recent sales catalogues at Bonhams, Christie's, Sotheby's and Bloomsbury Auctions to see what sold and for what price. This will give you an idea of current trends.
Artists' proofs, usually marked AP instead of being numbered, are additional to the main run and are often seen as less desirable.Alexander Hayter, International Head of Modern & Contemporary Art at Bloomsbury Auctions gives us his five tips for people and things to look out for.
Modern British art is very much on the up, and while some artists have reached serious money (such as David Hockney) there are bargains to be had.BARBARA HEPWORTH
Recently the prices for her work have been creeping up, but they are still affordable, and a good example can be bought at auction in the £1,500 range. I expect these will double in the next 12-18 months, so now is a good time to buy.The Aegean Suite, Sun Setting by Barbara Hepworth (1903-75), a lithograph printed in colours from 1971, signed in pencil and numbered 19/30. Printed and published by Curwen Studio, with their blindstamp, it measures 30 x 21in (76.5 x 54.5cm) and was estimated at £1,000-1,500 in Bloomsbury Auctions' June 2013 sale.RICHARD HAMILTON
He is one of the most respected British Pop artists and will be having a major retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 2014. While prices for some of his work are well into five figures, other examples can be bought very reasonably. Look for images from the Ulysses series, which can be bought in the £500-4,000 range; works from the ‘70s and ‘80s are, in my opinion, under-appreciated, so they're worth a look too.
Self-Portrait, by Richard Hamilton (1922-2011), a very rare soft-ground etching, with engraving, drypoint and punching, 1951, inscribed ‘Happy Anniversary Bill and Nora, Love from Richard' in black ink. There was no edition and only a very few impressions were printed. Measuring 11 x 8in (30 x 20cm), it was Hamilton's first self-portrait, produced while still a student at the Slade School of Art, London. It was never published and only a very few impressions were pulled. It was estimated at £10,000-15,000 in Bloomsbury Auctions' June 2013 sale.JULIAN TREVELYAN
Husband of Mary Fedden and close friend of the aforementioned S.W. Hayter, Trevelyan is one of the forgotten British surrealists, an extremely talented printmaker, who produced some wonderful works based on his love of London and the Thames, as well as from his travels in Africa, India and Italy. Colourful and charming, his etchings with aquatint are seen quite regularly at auction and can be bought in the £300-600 range. As with Hepworth, I have noticed his prices are rising, so if you like him buy now while they are still affordable.
Taj Mahal, by Julian Trevelyan, a 14 x 18 3/4in (35.5 x 47.5cm) signed and titled etching with aquatint from 1968, number 25 from an edition of 75, which sold on low estimate at Bloomsbury Auctions on March 28, 2013 for £500.STANLEY WILLIAM HAYTER
A cheeky tip this one, as I am a relative. However, he was one of the most innovative printmakers of the 20th Century and worked with and influenced such luminaries of the art world as Picasso, Miro, Pollock and De Kooning. Indeed, it can be said that there are few important artists of the 20th Century whose have not been influenced by the techniques he pioneered.
His print output was reasonably sizeable at around 500 works, all in editions from 30-100, and the most sought-after works are from 1939-1950 when he was based in New York City and worked with Pollock and the American Abstract Expressionists. Works from the mid ‘50s to the mid ‘80s are wonderfully produced and highly colourful, and can be bought from as little as £300 at auction, rising to around the £1,000 mark; at that level I think they are an absolute bargain. He is little known in the UK, which is surprising given his importance to modern printmaking; an investment for the future no doubt.
La Noyée, by Stanley William Hayter (1901-88), an engraving from 1955 signed, titled and dated, an artist's proof aside from the edition of 175, printed by the artist and Atelier 17. Measuring 14 inches x 19 inches (36 x 48.5cm), it was estimated at £1,000-1,500 in Bloomsbury Auctions' June 2013 sale.
The process of creating multiple versions of artworks, usually on paper. Considered originals, rather than copies, as each version is slightly different due to the printmaking process.
A full listing of all the known works of an artist.
Making a run of a print – and keeping its numbers limited to ensure values remain high.
A style where incisions in the surface of the print hold the ink.
Using a strong acid or mordant (a substance used to set dyes) to cut exposed parts of metal, producing an intaglio design.
An intaglio process producing a print looking similar to a wash painting – itself resembling a watercolour, but with a smaller range of colours.
Another intaglio process, which achieves a particularly rich print of fine quality.
The process of cutting a design into a plate – another way of achieving an intaglio effect.
A version of the artworks produced in the printmaking process, but standing outside of the numbered run, and therefore considered less valuable.
Usually three dedicated sales a year plus inclusion in a number of sales throughout the year.
At least two dedicated sales a year plus inclusion in a number of sales throughout the year.
A number of sales across the year.
20/21 British Art Fair
The only fair specialising exclusively in modern and contemporary British art, staged at the Royal College of Art in London. Next staging September 11-15, 2013.
Works on Paper Fair
Staged at the Science Museum in February, it includes a strong prints offering.
The London Art Fair
Staged at the Business Design Centre in Islington each January.
The value of prints can fall as well as rise, which means that if the
object(s) were to be sold, you could get back less than you paid for them. Please note that the value of print items is a matter of a valuer's opinion, rather than a matter of fact. In some circumstances it may be difficult to sell the print items.Not usually one of the big names of the Grosvenor School, Ursula Fookes provided one of the highlights of the April 16, 2013 sale with this graphic portrayal of a cruise ship on the high seas. Titled Liner, and measuring just 5 1/2in square, this rare three-colour linocut was undated but came with hopes of £2,000-3,000 and soared to £30,000.Top lot at Bonhams' April 16 sale was this four-colour print from around 1930 of Underground commuters on an escalator, by Cyril Power. Titled Whence & Whither?, signed, titled and numbered 16/50, it measured 12 1/8in x 9 3/8in and sold for £80,000 against an estimate of £30,000-50,000.Cyril Power's Speed Trial, from around 1931-2 in the three-colour blue version. Signed, titled and numbered 7/60, it measures 7 3/4in x 14 3/4in and took a top-estimate £60,000. Another version in the same colours set the record for a Grosvenor School print when it took £96,000 at Lockdale's of Ipswich in June 2012.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author,
and do not necessarily reflect the views of M&S Bank.