When acquiring a work of fine art, the key question to consider is one of connoisseurship. When buying a work by a chosen artist, that work should scream that it was created by that particular artist. Luckily, the subjectivity of art connoisseurship enables for a wide degree of interests, but one must also be informed. As an example when contemplating purchasing a Chagall, where the color saturation is one of the most important aspects, the greater/more saturated the color, the more valuable the piece is.
Iconography also plays an important role when assessing a work. The imagery or symbolism of a work of art is going to draw in different people for different reasons which will either increase or decrease the value. A Picasso painting of a tree trunk would certainly be worth less than a Picasso painting of a nude woman with a cat on her shoulders.
Through those forms of information presented in our descriptions, we hope to guide our customers towards their best purchase while fulfilling the purpose of art as an investment. That is why our inventory is pre-selected and curated by our staff to bring the widest variety and best quality to our collectors. If one views our Pablo Picasso prints for instance, they will notice that around 90% of the images are in color yet less than 15% of Picasso’s graphic works are in color. In addition, the vast majority of Picasso’s works are erotic, but looking at our website the majority of the artwork we handle is not erotic. This is because we have pre-selected what we consider to be the best of Picasso’s available works for our clients in the hopes that we are better meeting their needs, and that they understand the value in what they are purchasing.
Having a college degree in printmaking has given me personal familiarity with the great variety of printmaking techniques used by varying visual artists. By classifying a mid 20th Century work as an ‘afterwork’ seems to make the piece less valuable than what it actually is. Classically, ‘afterwork’ describes any work of art that has been created based on an original painting, watercolor, drawing, etc. Usually this class of print involves the assistance of the master printmaker working with the original artist, or under their supervision, to create a piece that is then reproduced using the various available printmaking techniques.
As an example Charles Sorlier was Marc Chagall’s printer for almost all of Chagall’s lithographs. The original subject and the collaborative work are both very similar as displayed below, but which is which?
The same example can be seen in Picasso’s work as well, who relied on Jacques Frelaut for his printing. These two collaborative examples show that the works created by a printer who closely works with the artist, under their direction, allows for the creation of a work that is more intricate and extensive than if only the artist printed them his/herself.
That is why I personally consider these works to be just as original, as they produce a vibrant image that skillfully projects the artists message. As you’ve seen already, our descriptions do not use the term ‘afterwork’ as we prefer to accurately state the artists involvement in the piece. Such an example would be “artist maquette used to produce piece was under the direct direction of Marc Chagall.” My belief is that if the artist did not 100% approve of the piece and actively partake in the process of creation, then why would he/she sign the work in his/her own hand after their creation?
Comparisons to Contemporary Print Making Techniques
These collaborative works augment the body of work these artists made and create a broader depth of their artistic abilities yet are undervalued as they were not exclusively made by the artist. This is where it is interesting to note the disparities of value when discussing the lack of artist involvement. When ‘afterwork’ is used, the work significantly decreases in value, but in contemporary works, in which the artist was absent completely from the creation, the work has insurmountable value in comparison.
Examples include works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Frank Stella who have all embraced modern reproduction techniques where the artists hand is basically absent other than to approve the originality of the work by signing it. Artists who use color copies and giclee (laser printing) techniques, are even more removed from their involvement in the print making process.
So why are Warhol silkscreens, in which Warhol had no involvement, and David Hockney prints, who does color copying prints, considered technically superior when compared to say Chagall and Miro? I had the experience of discussing this issue, within the last few years, with one of the heads of the print department at one of the major auctions house in the world. I argued my point that an original lithograph by Marc Chagall created with the assistance of a maquette is no more original than some Warhol silkscreens. While the department head agreed, their explanation for not properly describing a photomechanical work by Warhol an ‘afterwork’ was because the catalogue raisonne “said so”. This has to be one the most uneducated answers because I feel strongly that the work either is original it isn’t.
Given the multitude of techniques used by key artists and the great variety of techniques available, the involvement and collaboration of the artist leaves one with no sensible conclusion then to say all techniques should be considered equal as long as the artists intent was approved through the artist’s original signature on that piece of work.