Written by the Founder of Masterworks Fine Art: Alex Adelman
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 Picasso page 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 that 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 better meet their needs.
Having a college degree in printmaking has given me personal familiarity with the great variety of printmaking techniques used by varying visual artists. The term ‘afterwork’ can often (incorrectly) carry negative connotations, as collectors wrongly assume that the work is less valuable than it actually is. Classically, ‘afterwork’ describes any work of art that has been created based on an original painting, watercolor, drawing, etc. that the artist has already created. 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 produced using the various available printmaking techniques. Afterworks are original works of fine art that are very collectible. By creating afterworks after a unique original piece, the artist can bring his famed image into the privacy of collector’s or art lover’s own homes rather than just in museums.
As an example, Charles Sorlier was Marc Chagall’s master printer who assisted him for almost all of Chagall’s lithographs. He assisted Chagall in creating afterworks such as the original color lithographs The Bouquet and Les Coquelicots (Red Poppies), all of which were created after unique original paintings by Chagall.
Pablo Picasso also relied on master printer Jacques Frelaut for his printing. For example, the original color lithograph by Pablo Picasso Femme Assise (Seated Woman) is an afterwork. It is hand signed by Pablo and numbered from the edition of 100. This original print was created after the unique original oil on canvasFemme Assise (Seated Woman) that Picasso created in 1944. This unique painting currently resides in the Musée Picasso in Paris and can only be viewed at this location or perhaps on loan to another institution. By creating the original print as an afterwork, the artist creates both a valuable and collectible original work of fine art while making his/her famed imagery more accessible to viewers worldwide.
Afterworks are original works of fine art, as they produce a vibrant image that skillfully projects the artist’s message. The involvement of the master 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. My belief is that the artist clearly 100% approved of the ‘afterwork,’ as he/she actively partook in the process of creation and signed the work in his/her own hand after the work was completed.
Afterworks in Comparison 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 they are often undervalued as they were not exclusively made by the artist but rather were made with the collaboration of a master printmaker. This is where it is interesting to note the disparities of value when discussing the lack of artist involvement. In contemporary works, in which the artist was absent completely from the creation, the work often has insurmountable value in comparison with afterworks, in which the artist was involved in the printmaking process.
Examples include works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Frank Stella who have all embraced modern reproduction techniques where the artist’s 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, that are essentially color copying prints, considered technically superior when compared to say Chagall and Miro? Within the last few years, I had the experience of discussing this issue 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 just as original as a Warhol silkscreen. 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”.
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 that all techniques should be considered equal as long as the artist’s intent was approved through the artist’s original signature on that piece of work.