The best prints

[02 Feb 2015]


Fridays are the best! Every other Friday, Artprice offers you a themed auction ranking. This week, the leader of information on the art market discusses the 10 most expensive prints in the Western market.

The best prints
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Andy WARHOL $14,500,000 Suicide (1964) 2012-11-13 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
2 Andy WARHOL $8,200,000 The Kiss (Bela Lugosi) 2012-11-13 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
3 Andy WARHOL $5,800,000 Cagney (1962/64) 2012-11-13 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
4 Pablo PICASSO $4,566,240 La femme qui pleure I (1937) 2014-02-05 Sotheby’s LONDON
5 Pablo PICASSO $4,500,000 La femme qui pleure, I (1938) 2011-11-01 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
6 Andy WARHOL $4,250,000 Cagney (1962) 2013-05-14 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
7 Henri MATISSE $4,204,200 Océanie, la mer (1946-1947) 2011-06-21 Christie’s LONDON
8 Pablo PICASSO $3,603,410 La Suite Vollard (1930/37) 2013-06-19 Sotheby’s LONDON
9 Pablo PICASSO $2,667,980 Le repas frugal (1904) 2012-06-20 Christie’s LONDON
10 Andy WARHOL $2,214,240 Mao (1972) 2012-05-22 Sotheby’s LONDON
copyright © 2015


Half of the most popular prints are by Picasso
From 1899–1973, Picasso created more than 2,000 prints. The artist loved experimenting with a wide variety of etching techniques, even inventing new ones. His etched and lithographic production is impressively dense and represents 60% of public sale transactions.
One subject in particular, Weeping Woman (1937), appears several times among the most popular prints. What is the significance of this subject becoming the absolute favorite? In 1937, Picasso painted an oil on canvas titled Weeping Woman I. The work depicts Dora Maar wearing a large hat, her face deformed by suffering and anxiety. She chews furiously on a handkerchief to stifle her pain. Her nails are sharp and her eyes filled with tears. Cubist in treatment – Dora Maar is simultaneously represented from the front and in profile – the canvas features the warm colors of fauvism. Dora Maar’s pain in 1937 is interpreted as a metaphor for the pain felt by women who lost a husband or son, and the metaphor of a grieving Spain after the German bombing of Guernica. Once the painting was completed, Picasso explored the themes of agony and despair with prints inspired by Weeping Woman.

Weeping Woman first created surprise in the auction room in 2011, when Christie’s presented an etching and aquatint from 1938: estimated at the high price of USD 2.5m, but the bidding exploded the forecasts and it was snatched for USD 4.5m, more than USD 5.1m including fees. In February 2014, another strike of the gavel confirmed the multimillion value of this print: 7/7 condition, sold for USD 4.56 m.
Dora in tears is one of Picasso’s most renowned prints (American Jasper Johns was further inspired in a 1982 painting titled Perilous Night) and known for The Frugal Meal, which depicts two people sitting at a table in front of a meal reduced to bread and wine. Picasso was only 23 years old when he created The Frugal Meal, his second etching. From there we move to his blue period in 1904. The proof is part of The Family of Acrobats, a collection of fifteen etchings and drypoints. There were roughly 30 prints pulled before the etching plates were steel-faced and an edition of 250 by Louis Fort after the plates were steel-faced. The most sought-after etchings are those created before the etching plates were steel-faced. These two subjects – Weeping Woman and The Frugal Meal – make up part of the artist’s rare prints valued in the millions. La Minautoromachie from 1936 can be added to this, with five sales in the millions for the artist. La Suite Vollard (1930/37), ranked in this Top 10, is not composed of a single sheet but rather a collection of 100 etchings.

Other landmark strikes of the gavel for more or less rare prints should be mentioned. Among the top-ranked is the American John James Audubon (1785-1851), for the sale of an exceptional collection of 435 prints created by the artist. One particular case concerns the first edition of The Birds of America (1827-1938), sold for USD 2.75m in 1993. Andy Warhol is also among them, for the valuation of his two leading lithographic series, that of Mao and that of Marilyn Monroe. An older edition of 10 surpassed the USD million dollar mark for the first time in 2006. Today, Mao is valued at USD 2.2m.

Two other unique prints in this Top 10 are by Matisse and Munch: Oceania, the Sea (1946-1947) is the most popular print by Matisse. A monumental work measuring nearly four meters, screenprint on linen. One copy quadrupled its estimation in 2011, standing up to Picasso’s record—the 26/30 edition, sold for the equivalent of USD 4.2m in New York (or USD 4.7m). Oceania, the Sea is inspired by the sensations the artist experienced during a voyage to Tahiti in 1930: the confusion of spaces and things in the water of a lagoon, the erasing of the border between sky and sea. In 1946, the artist worked on an art and Paris Jazz cut-out book and adhered the cut-outs to his wall. Oceania, the Sea was also born of this fortuitous assembly, or almost…

The most popular Expressionist on the art market holds two places in the Top 10 of the most popular prints in history. Etching was an essential form of expression for Edvard Munch, obsessed with recurring themes. He practiced wooden etching starting in 1896 and often retouched his drawings with watercolor, ink or pencil. Fifteen prints by Munch have already sold for more than USD one million at auction: Young Woman on the Beach and Vampire II are the most popular, followed by the famous Scream and Madonna.