About Prints

About Prints:

1 – Notes on Print Connoisseurship

2 – Goya Prints

3 – Rembrandt’s Prints

1 Notes on Print Connoisseurship

Connoisseurship Matters

Evaluating and purchasing fine prints can be a formidable task, for there are numerous issues to be addressed: authenticity, paper, quality of impression, edition size, re-strikes, signatures, states, watermarks, condition, provenance, etc. Here Ill discuss a few of the many issues that I get lots of questions about; I strongly recommend that anyone with any questions on these or other issues contact me (Ill try to help); also, you might want to bring your print to a print professional working in a museum print room or university art department, because its generally necessary to see a print in person to evaluate it.

Original Print:An original print in my view is an impression taken from a plate which has been worked on directly by an artist, or where the artist has drawn on a woodblock or lithographic paper with the intention of creating a print. In many cases (e.g., Reginald Marshs etchings, early state Charles Meryon etchings, many Whistler or Rembrandt etchings) the artist also printed each proof. The issue of originality gets cloudy when someone makes a print of anothers work. When this is done its referred to as after, e.g., an engraving by Cock after Breugel (who himself made only one original print).

Lifetime Impressions:In general the prints made during an artists lifetime are better because the artist approves them, or because the matrix (copper plate, wood block, lithographic stone) is in better condition in the earliest stages of printing, and so would yield a better impression. In many cases its difficult to know whether a print is a lifetime impression, especially if the print was printed without changes to the matrix (i.e., in the same state) both lifetime and posthumously.

For example, many Whistler lithographs were printed in the same state before and after his death. It often requires extensive research and connoisseurship to determine whether a print is lifetime examination of watermarks, print quality, positioning of the print on the paper, paper size, paper type, estate stamps, etc. Sellers claiming to be selling lifetime impressions should be able to prove this claim with a complete and compelling argument.

Signature: After about 1870 it became customary for artists to sign prints, generally in pencil at the bottom margin. This is often considered evidence of the artists approval of the impression. But many great prints were not signed (e.g., early runs of Picassos Vollard Suite). Some artists have signed prints that they did not in fact make (e.g., prints after Picasso signed by Picasso); Dali even signed paper before it was printed.

Signatures in the plate (woodblock, lithographic stone, copper plate) should not be considered signed or hand signed, and such signatures are of little or no consequence. Often, particularly with old master prints, it is preferable to have an impression made before a signature in the plate this could be an earlier state of the print, when the matrix was in better condition and so would yield a better impression. Signatures can, of course, be faked, and assessing them can be a matter of experience and connoisseurship. Often artists used different signatures during the course of their careers, and the signature type may tell us a lot about when the print was printed.

I discuss these issues in greater depth in a guide on signatures; heres the link:Fine Print Signature Guide

Certificates of Authenticity:These have been thoroughly discredited in recent years; an inflated-sounding claim of a C of A is often a sign that there is a problem in the wings. Dealers should, however, provide a full description of each print sold, including information on the artist, title, date, image and sheet size, catalog references, state, paper and watermarks, provenance, and any other information of note.

Numbering Prints:Near the end of the 19th C. artists (or sometimes printers, or publishers) started numbering prints, especially those issued in an edition (a group of prints generally printed with some set limit contemplated). Sometimes the prints were simply numbered (e.g., Pissarro wrote No. 1, etc. on prints, and sometimes also wrote the state number; Buhot did too); as editions were issued the numbers were shown as part of an edition (e.g., 15/100).

Numbering sometimes gives clues about the edition. For example, some of Lozowicks 1972 re-printings of certain lithographs have Roman numerals (e.g. V/X); the earlier editions would not have such numbers. But numbering may not tell much about edition size. For example, Reginald Marsh sometimes numbered prints 13/50 or some such thing, when less than 20 prints were ever made. John Sloan routinely annotated his prints 100 proofs when the real edition sizes could be a third of that number, or sometimes even more than 100. Artists (and others) are typically given prints apart from the edition (artists proofs, printers proofs, etc.), and if this number is large the edition size may be quite misleading as to the number of prints made.

Numbering also need not indicate anything about the quality of a print. Sometimes printers place finished prints in a pile as theyre printed or dried, then the artist signs and numbers them, so the latest prints off the press (and in etching or drypoint, those would typically be the lesser impressions, made when the plate is more worn) have the lowest numbers (and Ive encountered many higher numbered better impressions than lower numbered). But if the prints were dried out all around the print shop or printed at different times and otherwise got out of order and then placed in a pile, theres no relationship between quality and number. (Of course the idea of signing is that the artist has approved the print, but lots of poor printings get signed.) A number or a signature (or a provenance) should not be considered an indicia of print quality the print itself should be sufficient evidence of its quality!


Condition is critical to print connoisseurship, and I explore this issue a bit more in my guide on reading a print description (link shown below). Of course tears, especially those affecting the image, matter, as do pin holes or worm holes, foxing (due to fungus) or other discoloration, staining due to light or perhaps poor matting and framing, etc. My sense is that condition has traditionally been so consequential for print buyers because if a print is in any way problematic, its generally been possible to find another one thats not. So the print with the slightest problem may be rejected by the careful collector. But one wonders whether this obsessive-compulsive posture might sometimes go too far. In some cases Ive seen collectors shy away from prints that are unique impressions the only ones available or perhaps even known because they have small condition issues. In these cases, if one wants the print theres really no choice but to get the one available or do without it, and so its reasonable that condition take a lesser role in decisionmaking than when other impressions are readily available.

Print collectors have traditionally worried about margins, the paper outside of the plate mark or the image. If the margins have not been trimmed they are referred to as full, and collectors value this. Old master prints tend to be trimmed close to the image. The condition and size of margins would seem to be rather irrelevant to a prints value, but it does matter, again, perhaps because if a print is trimmed or theres a problem in the margin, another impression without the problem might be available. Whistler famously trimmed many of his etchings closely, leaving only a small tab for his butterfly signature. He disdained collectors who seemed sometimes to care more about the state of a prints margins than the quality of its image.

Comparing Impressions

Because there are several examples of most prints, collectors can develop a sense of how a print should look by comparing them. Print rooms in museums and libraries often have examples that can be looked at, as do dealers. Although contemporary prints are often printed with the objective of being closely identical to one another, older prints were often printed differently, and of course have fared differently over time. Theres no substitute for examining a number of impressions of a print before selecting one. This is perhaps the most important way one develops print connoisseurship.


2- Goya’s Aquatints

I get many questions about Goya prints, so thought it might be useful to sketch an overview of some of his most famous and common prints: the aquatint sets. Francisco Goya (1746-1828) was of course one of the greatest of Western artists, and printmaking was central to his career. He created four major series of prints, and many other prints including a series of lithographs late in his career. Due to the way most of his prints were created and published, thereis much confusion today about their dating, their rarity, their appearance and their value. In this guide I want to clarify some of theconnoisseurship issues (ignoring for the moment the art historical and aesthetic issues) regarding the fourmajor Goya print series: the Caprichos, Disasters of War, La Tauromaquia, and Los Proverbs (or Disparates).Ill begin with a few notes on his basic printmaking method, then discuss the four series in turn.

Goyas Printmaking Methods

Goyas four major print series were each done in engraving. He worked, generally after making apreliminary drawing for guidance, on a copper plate. After damping the paper and putting a wax-like ground on the plate he would put the drawingface down on the plate, and run the paper and plate through a press. A copy of the drawing would transfer to the ground. He would then work overthe lines on thisgroundwith an etching needle; when put in acid the plate would be protected except where lines were drawn, and furrows would be eaten away by the acid. When the ground was taken off the plate, the plate would be inked andthese furrows would hold ink even after the plate was wiped; a sheet of damp paper pressed over the inked plate would then pick up the lines of ink. This is the basic etching process.

The etching process creates lines on the plate; to get areas of shading, Goya used the method of aquatint. Here areas of the plate are grained and bitten with acid to roughen the plate surface so it will hold ink and print as tone.He probably applied resin to the plate after putting resin in a muslin bag, then shook it onto the plate. The plate would then have lots of tiny grains. Then the plate was warmed so that the resin
melted to the plate and stuck.When acid is then applied to the plate, it works around these grains, eating into the plate and creating areas of lots of tiny holes. If the acid is applied to an area twice or bathed in acid for a longer time, the holes would be deeper, and hold more ink this area would print darker than the more lightly bathed area.

Goyaworked on the plates in other ways to strengthen lines, to burnish away areas of aquatint or soften lines; he sometime also worked with a drypoint needle directly on the plate to get details right.So although his central method was aquatint, heworked over the plates in many ways to get the image and effects he wanted.But the pressure of the printing process takes its toll on copper plates, and these subtle effects especially those in aquatint, which creates rather shallow pits in the plate are lost after a large number of printings. My major point: all the work Goya did gets worn down as the plates wear over time, and tired, hazy impressions without contrast are the result. Now lets look at the prints.

Los Caprichos

Los Caprichos,the earliest of the major Goya series,is a series of 80 engravings, published initially in 1799 by Goya himself. Goya produced a number of working proofs for these engravings, without the letters found on the bottom margin or the numbers at the top. Only two are known before aquatint. Then letters were added; more trial proofs taken and the letters on a number of these proofs corrected. These early proofs, and a few complete early sets,are fairly well documented; their location isknown. In 1799 the prints were published in an edition of about 300, on fine quality strong laid paper, the sheets measure about 320 by 220 mm, in a warm sepia ink. These prints, in the First Edition, are each (of course) lifetime impressions. They vary a bit in quality, for as the run went into the hundreds the aquatint began to wear out, the different layers of shading became less distinct. But in general these prints are fine impressions.

In 1855, long after Goyas death, the Calcografia in Madrid issued another set of Los Caprichos, now on wove paper. This edition was small, and the quality was generally good although variable. But the prints are not comparable to those of the First Edition. The Calcografia produced another edition (the Third Edition), also on wove paper,in 1868. Further editions were done in the late 1800s, with various inks, still on wove paper, and the plates continued to deteriorate. The plates were then steelfaced (a tiny layer of steel applied to them, to halt the deterioration). More additions were produced by the Calcografia, with various papers, watermarks, sizes and inks, up throughthe 12th Edition, issued in 1937.

All of these posthumous edition impressions are in some sense original Goya prints, i.e., they were taken off of the original plates. The editions, almost all originally in bound volumes of 80, have been broken up and impressions are sold singly. Connoisseurs of course prefer the impressions from the First Edition, and the earlier impressions from that edition if possible.

The Disasters of War

This second series of Goya prints has a quite different history from the Caprichos. Again, it is a series of 80 prints, but produced over a longer period, from about 1808 to 1814, the period of the Napoleonic Wars and the Great Famine in Madrid in 1811-12. Working materials were scarce, and Goya worked on used plates, often cutting them in half or working on the back of worn or defective plates. This shows in the results; even the earliest impressions generally lack the incisiveness, and clarity of aquatint shading, of the Caprichos plates. But given the subject matter and the nature of the materials Goya worked with this series remains one of the great artistic and printmaking achievements.

Goya produced trialproofs, and even some complete proof sets of the Disasters after all the plates were completed. But he did not have an edition published at that point, or later during his lifetime. He left for France in about 1820, and had the plates stored in safes by his son, Javier. After Javiers death in 1854 the plates were acquired by the Academia de San Fernando. At this point the plates were washed and proofs taken in preparation for an edition. Trial proof setswere made for the edition (a small number are documented), before the letters in the bottom margin were added. ThenFirst Edition sets were printed (in 1862-3); somesets made before corrections in the lettering of some of the plates, a later group after the corrections. The size of these first two editions isabout 500. These were done on wove paper, many with JGO and palmette watermarks, in a sepia ink.

After the First Edition six more editions were published, of varying quality on a variety of papers, through the Seventh Edition in 1937. The editions did not get worse uniformly after the First, but, as in the case of the Caprichos, the First is by far moredesirable (and of course the lifetime proofs are most desirable of all).

La Tauromaquia

The 33 original plates of this series were created in about 1815-1816, and were printed in an edition by Goya at that time (he produced a number of additional plates but rejected them), after a number of proof impressions were made. The set is on fine laid paper, with certain watermarks, printed in sepia ink. The edition was very small, perhaps much smaller than the Los Caprichos edition of 300. As with the other series, the Calcographia produced additional editions, starting witha small one in 1855 (on wove), a Third in 1876 (on laid), up to a Seventh in 1937. For the printing of the Third Edition the printer got ahold of seven of the previously rejected plates (actually printed on the back of seven of the original plates)and printed them (lettering themA-G) as part of a set, making the total 40. These latter plates were not, then, editioned during Goyas lifetime.

Los Proverbios

The eighteen Proverbios prints were made at various times from about 1815-1824. Like the Disasters series prints, a few proofs were made of these prints by Goya, but no edition produced. The plates were then stored, with the plates of the Disasters, by his son Javier, and re-discovered after Javiers death. Its a mystery why a lifetime edition was not produced. Trial proofs were printed prior to the publication of the First Edition in 1864. After publication of the First Edition (in an edition of 300) an additional four plates were discovered in the possession of an artist, and these were published in LArt in 1877, for the first time.

The plates of the Proverbios were re-editioned 8 times after the First Edition, the last edition in 1937, on various papers, different inks, and with widely varying results. As with each of the Goya sets, the deterioration after the initial printing and even through the initial printing was considerable.

I get more questions about Goya prints than almost any otherartist. People typically have a print or two and wonder whether its lifetime or posthumous, valuable, a good example, a reproduction. This overview may provide some senseof the issues and complexities entailed in answering these questions.And if it leads you to contact me for further discussion thats fine!Harris Schrank