See also : Prints Rembrandt Political writing Origins of sports
Chronology : 1650-1659 1820-1829
1515 Masterpieces of Printing by Albrecht Dürer
2013 SOLD 870 K$ including premium
Albrecht Dürer is the best example of a precocious and overgifted artist. All graphic arts were his passion: painting, drawing, engraving. Few ancient artists have reached his level with regard to the accuracy of lines and proportions. He was also lucky to be born in the right place at the right time.
Nuremberg was one of the cultural capitals of northern Europe. In 1493 in that city, Koberger published hisChronicles, illustrated with 1800 woodcuts, the most impressive of all incunabula.
Koberger had been a goldsmith before turning to editor. He was also the godfather of the young Albrecht, 22 years old in 1493. The printing of the Chronicles was entrusted to Wolgemut, at a time when Dürer was an apprentice in the latter's workshop. In this multidisciplinary surrounding, Dürer early became a master of copper engraving, which was perfectly suited to the extreme accuracy of his drawing.
On January 29 in New York, Christie's sells in 61 lots an exceptional collection of prints by Dürer. Within half a century, the collector had gathered the finest copy of each of the greatest images.
The most prestigious piece, whose estimate is not published, is a St Eustace. Made circa 1501, it is the largest of Dürer's prints, 36 x 26 cm, and a favorite of the artist himself who liked to used it as a show-piece.
Selected among other major works in this auction: Adam and Eve, the most famous (1504, 25 x 20 cm, estimated $ 300K), Melencolia I, the most emotional (1514, 24 x19 cm without the margins, estimated $ 400K), Knight, Death and the Devil, the beautiful conclusion of the medieval world (1513, 25 x 19 cm, estimated $ 500K), St. Jerome in his study(1514, 25 x 20 cm, estimated $ 300K).
The catalog cover is a vanity, 1503, 22 x 16 cm, estimated $ 250K.
POST SALE COMMENT
This exceptional collection has been greeted with a deserved enthusiasm. The highest price of the sale, $ 870K, was focused on the famous Rhinoceros (1515, 24 x 30 cm) which had been listed with a very conservative estimate of $ 100K.
Five engravings discussed above were sold : St Eustace: $ 720K. Adam and Eve: $ 660K. Melencolia I: $530K. St Jerome: $ 360K, and the vanity: $ 340K.
These prices include premium.
1655 The Art of Dry Point
2018 SOLD for £ 2.65M including premium
His solutions are innovative. The dry point was used until then in addition to etching and chisel for minor reworks of the drawing. Rembrandt attempts compositions entirely in dry point. Applied obliquely like a pencil, his needle improves the variety of the line. The incision of the point in the copper is shallow, allowing a harmony between the drawing and the inkings left voluntarily on the plate to bring contrasts and shadows.
A fine image deserves a great paper. Rembrandt was seduced by a stock recently imported in Amsterdam by the Dutch East India Company, with a beautiful light brown-yellow hue and a fibre that does not absorb ink and provides a sharpness comparable to vellum.
His first masterpiece in these improved techniques is The Three Crosses (Christ crucified between the two thieves), 38 x 45 cm, made in 1653. He prepares shortly after in the same size another scene of the Passion, Ecce Homo (Christ presented to the people). The oriental paper is smaller than his copperplate and he adds a narrow extra stripe at the top of the image.
An impression of the first state of Ecce Homo is for sale by Christie's in London on July 5, lot 22. The press release of April 30 announces an estimate in the region of US $ 3M to 5M. It is the only copy remaining in private hands from the first four states of this image.
The copper plates wear out, preventing large printing. The artist deliberately blurs some damaged areas of Ecce Homo after its fourth state. The eighth and last state is dated 1655. For the fourth and penultimate state of the Three Crosses around 1661, he works differently, replacing the subtle smoky contrasts by diagonal streaks.
This solution could not satisfy the artist because of the painstaking preparation of the ink shades and of the necessarily incomplete and frustrating repairs to the worn plates. He will not reuse this technique, giving up the possible project of a dry point series on the Passion of Christ.
1761 Philadelphia by Heap and Scull
2020 SOLD for $ 970K including premium by Arader
narrated post sale in 2020
At that time the pioneer of perspective views of North America was William Burgis, who published the port cities of New York in 1719 and Boston in 1725. Philadelphia became the most populous city in the colonies, with 20,000 inhabitants. The Penn family appreciates the value of such documents in attracting investors and entrusts their preparation to Scull. The surveyor is helped by an artist named George Heap, who was probably related to his wife.
On October 10, 2020 Arader Galleries sold for $ 490K including premium an engraved map of the Philadelphia area prepared in 1752 by Scull and drawn by Heap, lot 147 here linked on the LiveAuctioneers bidding platform. This document is illustrated with a perspective view of the State-House. This 55 x 32 cm copy is the only one known on silk.
The same team also prepared in 1754 the panoramic view of the Philadelphia river front for a length of about a mile. The image is embellished with boats and mills which give an impression of intense commercial and naval activity.
Heap dies in 1760 and Scull in 1761. Between these two events, the view is printed in London in four separate sheets for a total size of 50 x 210 cm plus the separation margins. A slightly smaller version is published in October 1761 by London Magazine.
A copy of the large version was sold for $ 970K including premium by Arader in the same sale as above, lot 141.
1793-1794 The Images from the Ivy Shop
2016 SOLD for € 750K including premium
The technique of engraving used for the multicolor prints of the floating world or ukiyo-e was developed for over a century. The original drawing was glued to a wood piece that was carved and black inked. Paper copies are in turn glued on wooden blocks which are recessed to define the surface to be inked with a predetermined color. Wedges define a sharp position of the blocks during the subsequent color inkings. About 300 copies could be printed before a significant wear of the woods.
Ukiyo-e is a bourgeois art that develops along with the social changes of the Edo period. The aristocrats do not like these multiple images that often honor illicit activities and the censorship is becoming increasingly severe.
The biography of the artists is not well known because of their plebeian origin and of the risk brought by the censorship. They often change their pseudonym and their real name is usually not identified. Tsutaya is not a personal name but the sign of the Ivy Shop. It however refers to a single publisher, Jūzaburō, who died in 1797 of our calendar.
Utamaro is a friend of Tsutaya with whom he resides. His artistic contribution is greatly innovative. He draws the head in close-up, which is shocking with reference to the Japanese artistic tradition, with a strong psychological intensity. He also innovates in the detailed drawing of the hair. His kira-e technique of embellishing the background with mica flakes provides a luxurious illusion that deliberately breaks with the traditional use of the ukiyo-e prints.
Sharaku is the pseudonym used by an unidentified artist who was perhaps Utamaro or Tsutaya for a series of portraits of actors of the Kabuki theater in which the female roles are played by men.
The sale held on June 21 in Paris (Drouot) by Beaussant Lefèvre in collaboration with Christie's enables to compare images by Utamaro and Sharaku in the standardized Oban tate-e format around 35 x 24 cm. Here is the link to the auction house's website.
Lot 6 is the portrait by Utamaro of a woman dreaming of love. This image from one of the most famous ukiyo-e series was printed by Tsutaya in 1793 or 1794 with the kira-e on a salmon-colored background. Lot 3 is the portrait of an actor in a female role executed by Sharaku in 1794 with a kira-e gray background and a collar also slightly improved by mica.
Utamaro : SOLD for € 750K including premium
Sharaku : SOLD for € 40K before fees
1795 Large Color Print by William Blake
2004 SOLD for $ 3.9M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
Of modest origin, son of a hosier, he follows an original path, wishing the union of all religions, in hostile reaction against the philosophers of Reason. To prepare his illuminated books, he develops in 1788 a technique of relief etching.
In 1795 Blake is tempted by using engraving techniques for images in larger format. He takes up twelve themes from his previous works, inspired by the Bible, Shakespeare and Milton, without forgetting the famous figures of Newton and Nebuchadnezzar. This set is known as the Large Color Prints. He reworked the finishing of several prints around 1805.
For this series he is preparing his drawings on gessoed cardboard, with perhaps one exception on copper. Each matrix can be used two to four times. The technique was not documented in period, but these images should not be assimilated to monotypes. The watercoloring is often very different between works from the same matrix.
The total surviving production for the 12 themes is 30 copies, three of which are in private hands. On May 5, 2004, Sotheby's sold a Large color print for $ 3.9M including premium, lot 5. Its theme of Good and Evil Angels struggling for possession of a child is inspired from Swedenborg. This image 44 x 58 cm is vividly colored.
1799 The Sleep of Reason
2014 SOLD 1.45 M$ including premium
In his detailed view, civilization is a collection of physical and moral horrors. Goya chooses to print these images by himself. The aquatint enables a beautiful sepia tone that made him from his first trials one of the best imagemakers of his time. He will be also up to the end of his life a passionate experimenter with all modern printing techniques.
Composed of 80 plates 30 x 20 cm, the Caprichos series is designed and prepared in 1797 and 1798. The famous image "El sueño de la razón produce monstruos" was not chosen as the title of the whole, but is a guide to open our eyes to the fact that the nightmare of attitudes or the abjection of heads and bodies are not only in the dream.
He went too boldly for his time in this amalgam of religion, nobility and witchcraft. Yet he hoped for success and prepared 300 copies in 1799, but hurriedly decided to suspend the sale after a few days because of the disgrace of his patron Godoy.
On January 28 in New York, Christie's sells a complete set of proof prints of Los Caprichos, before the original edition, including five plates that will be slightly modified in the published version. This collection in a binding of that time is estimated $ 400K, lot 9 of the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
This outstanding complete set which preceded the first issue was sold for $ 1.45 million including premium.
1816 The Beast won !
2013 SOLD 1.9 M$ including premium
Goya himself had practiced bullfighting. He had admired Illo, who was with Pedro Romero one of the great reformers of that art. Horrified as we know by wars, Goya could not fail to devote a full set of prints to this deadly game in which the man was not always the winner.
La Tauromaquia is the saga of the corrida de toros, published in 33 prints by Goya in Madrid in 1816, and showing the feats and death of Illo. The aquatints were prepared by drypoint, and two of them are enhanced by a wash.
A complete original set, remarkably homogeneous, is estimated $ 400K, for sale by Christie's in New York on April 9. Images on an oblong sheet 28 x 40 cm are accompanied by a page on the same paper with the handwritten list of titles. The set is assembled in a binding of that time. Here is the link to the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
For ancient and modern prints, perfect examples of the most prestigious editions have no price limit. They are works of art in their own right: $ 1.9 million including premium.
1824 Facsimile of the US Declaration of Independence
2021 SOLD for $ 4.4M by Freeman's
The duplicate signed by the 56 delegates in early August, 1776 was becoming a symbol of the American liberty. Unfortunately it was badly deteriorating. In 1820 the Secretary of State and future President John Quincy Adams commissioned the printer William J. Stone to print an exact facsimile.
The engraving was made with a wet ink process by which some of the original ink was transferred to a copper plate which was etched. The engraving was completed and dated in 1823 and the printing was made in 1824 in 200 copies on 80 x 70 cm vellum. Approximately fifty are located.
Two copies were presented to one of the three surviving original signers, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, former delegate and senator of Maryland, aged 87. They were presented by Carroll to his grandson-in-law in 1826 after the death of the last two other signers, former Presidents John Adams and Jefferson.
One of them, inscribed by Carroll, went in 1844 to the Maryland Historical Society. The grandson-in-law copied this inscription on the other document with a reference to the autographed Carroll copy.
This second Carroll copy was discovered in a Scottish attic by Cathy Marsden, specialist of rare books at the Edinburgh auction company Lyon and Turnbull, and transferred for auction to their sister company Freeman's based in Philadelphia. It was sold by Freeman's on July 1, 2021 for $ 4.4M from a lower estimate of $ 500K, lot 1. Please watch the video shared by Freeman's.
A historic discovery! Our sister auction house, Freeman’s, is pleased to announce the sale of a signer’s copy of William J. Stone’s 1823 printing of the #DeclarationofIndependence recently rediscovered in Scotland by Lyon & Turnbull. Find out more: https://t.co/RiosDcVn4k pic.twitter.com/xSL20pV2Do— Lyon & Turnbull (@LyonandTurnbull) June 24, 2021
1831 The Great Wave by HOKUSAI
2021 SOLD for $ 1.6M by Christie's
Begun in 1831 at the age of 71, the series of 26 x 38 cm prints titled 36 Views of Mount Fuji is his most ambitious work, which will include not 36 plates but 46. The sacred mountain is shown on all its faces, at any time, in any weather, in all seasons, with an interpretation of perspective that is new in Japanese art. It occupies a larger or smaller section of the horizon and is almost always faced with human occupation. This series should not be confused with its continuation, the 100 Views of Mount Fuji, prepared from 1834 to 1840.
The woodcut was done by a specialized craftsman who chiseled the wood through the drawing. The original piece was lost and the prints weakened irreparably as production went on. The catalogers of the auction houses clearly fail to highlight the sharper impressions.
The first three opus of the first series are masterpieces, by the balance of the composition based on a strict geometry, the beauty of the Prussian blue recently imported to Japan, and the emotional dimension.
The very first is the Great Wave off Kanagawa. A gigantic wave surrounds fishing boats while rejecting its foam and spray over the entire surface of the image. It has the shape of a double comma simulating yin and yang, in the background of which Mount Fuji is posed like a deity impassive to the perdition of men. This wave is a natural monster that probably inspired van Gogh's Starry Night.
A copy of the Great Wave was sold for $ 1.1M by Christie's on September 22, 2020 from a lower estimate of $ 150K, lot 117. Also at Christie's, the sale of March 16, 2021 had two copies. They were sold for $ 1.6M from a lower estimate of $ 150K, lot 144, and for $ 440K from a lower estimate of $ 120K, lot 138. The prints of the two top lots were better cut for a full image in a total width exceeding 38 cm. Lot 144 thus still had a narrow right margin.
A copy of the second opus, the Red Fuji, was sold for $ 510K by Christie's on March 19, 2019 from a lower estimate of $ 90K, lot 235. Its simple and efficient geometry anticipates the Montagnes Sainte-Victoire by Cézanne.