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Top Prints

[24 Feb 2017]

Discover the best sales every Friday! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week, our rankings reveal the best print sales at auction recorded in just over a year.

Picasso dominates

First insight: Picasso prints account for half of our world ranking! Not surprising for the most sought after and most emblematic artist of 20th century… But what are the most valuable Picasso prints and why?

At the top of the ranking is a Minotauromachy sold for over $2.6m in May 2016 at Christie’s in New York. It is a new world record for this etching made in 1935, whose subject refers both to bullfighting, much loved by Picasso, and to the myth of the Minotaur, a monster with a human body and the head of a bull, that was kept in a labyrinth built by Daedalus, and to whom seven boys and seven girls from Athens were sacrificed each year. With the theme of the Minotaur, Picasso brings archaic myths back to life and evokes the evolution of man from animality. The Minotauromachy is also a major milestone in the master’s work as it was his main source of inspiration for the emblematic Guernica (1937), his most tormented, most symbolic and most famous work along with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. This Minautoromachy also reflects the personal life of the artist, as is often the case, as at the time of its creation, Picasso was at odds with the two women in his life, Olga Khokhlova and Marie-Thérèse Walter who was pregnant with Maya. He had stopped painting for a while, so this work concentrates all his creative power at the time. We can also note that the two Minotauromachy prints in the rankings have a price difference of $500,000, although sold only six months apart. This significant gap can be explained by the quality of the plate, the preservation of the paper, possible restoration and the quality of the inking, which are aspects that only experts and the most knowledgeable collectors can appreciate. The level of expertise is the key to a fair estimation of a print…

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) $2 629 000 La Minotauromachie 2016-05-12 – Christie’s New York NY
2 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) $2 532 500 La suite vollard 2016-11-14 – Sotheby’s New York NY
3 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) $2 107 500 La Minotauromachie 2016-11-16 – Christie’s New York NY
4 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) $1 745 000 La Femme qui pleure 2016-05-12 – Christie’s New York NY
5 Jasper JOHNS (1930) $1 685 000 « Flags I » 2016-04-26 – Christie’s New York NY
6 Michelangelo PISTOLETTO (1933) $1 572 500 « turista che mangia un panino » 2016-11-17 – Sotheby’s New York NY
7 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) $1 207 500 Mao 2016-11-02 – Christie’s New York NY
8 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) $965 000 La femme au tambourin 2016-05-12 – Christie’s New York NY
9 Francisco José DE GOYA Y LUCIENTES (1746-1828) $912 500 Los Caprichos. [Madrid: Printed by Rafael Esteve for the Artist, 1799.] 2017-01-25 – Sotheby’s New York NY
10 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) $852 500 Mao 2016-11-18 – Sotheby’s New York NY
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Pop Art follows in Picasso’s footsteps

With Jasper Johns and the sale of two Andy Warhol’s artworks, American Pop Art is very well represented. This series of ten screen prints of Mao by Warhol, made in 1972 and published in an edition of 50, has sold for an even higher price than his famous Marilyn series. In 2012, the 10 Mao prints sold for way over their estimate of between $500,000 and $800,000 to reach $2.5 million (22nd May, 2012 at Sotheby’s London)… A record price and the price of its special number, as this edition was the very first, numbered 1/50. The price difference between the two Mao series sold in 2016 – respectively for $1.2m and $852,000 – owes nothing to any potential market vagaries. The price gap is due to the rarity of the edition: for the edition sold for $1.2m, the 10 Mao prints were numbered out of 150, while the edition that sold for $852,000 was numbered out of 250.

Jasper Johns, who was introduced to screen printing by Warhol in 1960, had for his most emblematic subject the American flag. Through his experiments in silkscreen printing, he created works whose bright colours and textured finish recall what the effect he obtained in his paintings. This is the case for Flag 1, of which an edition of 65 was created in 1973. The price of this print rose from $600,000 between 2013 and 2016, establishing a new world record in the print market for the American artist.

A new record also for Michelangelo Pistoletto, with a silk screen print glued to a mirror, and a second highest sale for the 80 prints from the Los Caprichos series by Goya. There are many different editions of Los Caprichos series created throughout the 19th and even the 20th century, as Goya printed proofs during his lifetime and then offered the original plates to the King of Spain in 1803 to pay for his son’s education. There are in all 20 editions, printed between 1799 and 1937. The one considered the most beautiful is that of 1812. As with Warhol, the price gap can be several hundred thousand dollars from one edition to another.

Acquisition opportunities will abound in the coming months for printmaking enthusiasts, notably with the special Christie’s and Sotheby’s London sales scheduled between 29th March and 4th April, 2017, as well as sales in New York on 19th, 27th and 28th, April and the London Original Print Fair to be held at the Royal Academy from 4th to 7th, May.

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