A few days after Volume 43 was sent out, there was an anonymous message on our answering machine asking if I would comment on the following question: Is the original worth more when there are many reproductions?
This is an interesting question and one that is very difficult to answer definitively, but I will try. Throughout the history of art, artists used reproductions to promote not only their art, but themselves. During the 19th century, artists, and their dealers, allowed works to be reproduced in books that not only reviewed specific exhibitions or discussed current trends in art, but also those in which the reproductions were used as general illustrations for stories, poems and other literary works.
Many artists, in the 19th century, also licensed their works to be reproduced in large open runs and sold as prints to be framed and hung on the wall as decoration. This not only allowed people across the globe to own a likeness of a favorite work, but gave artists in different parts of the world the ability to study the style and technique of artists in countries they might never get to visit. These reproductions were, for many artists, one of the few promotional avenues available to them.
Today many of these reproductions have survived and while most currently have little more than ‘decorative’ value, they certainly do not have a negative impact on the value of the original work. My personal opinion is that just the opposite has taken place. During both Daniel Ridgway Knight’s and Julien Dupré’s lifetimes (I am using these artist just as examples because of our in-depth knowledge of both their original works and the reproductions) a number of their paintings were reproduced and a few in particular, such as Ridgway Knight’s Hailing the Ferryman (probably one of the most reproduced images of the period) and Dupré’s The Balloon (another huge favorite of the period) were done in many different sizes and types; thousands of copies were made and today we literally see dozens of them each month. The original painting by Ridgway Knight is in the collection of The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Julien Dupré is in the Reading Museum, Pennsylvania, and while they, most likely, will never come on the market, if they did these works would probably command one of the highest prices for either a Ridgway Knight or Dupré painting. This is not only because they are fabulous examples of their work (there are others of similar quality and importance), but because they have been so well publicized, making them not only more well known, but more historically important.
Keep in mind that buyers (whether collectors, museums, institutions, etc.) like to know that the works they own are sought after … and if they have the opportunity to acquire a work by an artist that was fairly well publicized during his/her lifetime and is now deemed by many to be an ‘important’ work, many will pay a premium for it.
As I am sure you can tell we have come full circle, because the way many works became so famous is through all of the reproductions that were made and sold. But you need to keep in mind that reproducing a select group of works by an artist during his/her career is very different than an artist who makes a reproduction of every work he/she creates. In these instances, the artists are less interested in selling the one original. What these artists, or we should more accurately say ‘their corporations’, do is price the original work at what can truly be called a ‘ridiculously’ high level – out of the range of most intelligent buyers – so that they can sell the plethora of reproductions they make. Just think about some of the heavily advertised commercial contemporary artists who place a value as high as $300,000 on an original painting so they can justify the thousands they charge for the various reproductions made of each work. In some cases there can be 4, 5 or 6 different editions for each work … several with runs in excess of 1000 pieces and selling in excess of $2,000 … start multiplying those numbers and not only will it make your head spin, but you will understand why they do this – some of these artists and their companies have, in the past, posted yearly sales in the $150 million range! I am not sure if that is capitalism at its best or at its worst.
So to answer the question that was posed -- Is the original worth more when there are many reproductions? It really depends on the situation/artist at hand. For those artists who truly had/have historical importance and did not over saturate the market with hundreds of thousands of reproductions, you will find that the works chosen for reproduction will become more important in the eyes of the public and this, will likely, translate into an increase in value for the original. On the other hand, if the artist just kept cranking out reproductions of every work they produced, basically flooding the market, I think that in the long run this will more than likely have a negative impact on the original works long term value – if it ever really had the value that was originally placed on it!
A Strong Market Continues
The summer is usually a quiet time in the art market. People are concentrating on their golf or tennis game, while others are relaxing on the beach … soaking up some rays. If you are, I do hope you are using a lot of sun block! However, this summer has been very active … not only in our gallery, but across the entire market. Here are some highlights from the summer sales:
Recently one of the main sale rooms sold a group of musical instruments from the collection of Eric Clapton and his friends. Among the more impressive results were “Blackie” – Clapton’s c.1956 Fender Stratocaster – which sold for $959,500 (yes, almost $1 million for a guitar). Next in line was his 1964 Gibson ES-335 TDC which sold for $847,500; then his 1939 Martin 000-42 Acoustic sold for $791,500. In the end some 100 instruments were sold for a total price in excess of $7.4 million.
In the 19th century painting market there were some interesting results. As usual, the sales that took place were filled with a mixed bag – featuring both good and bad works. In the end between 40 and 50 percent of the offerings failed to find buyers, but among the more notable highlights were: Jean-Léon Gérôme’s La Grande Piscine à Bursa (The Great Bath of Bursa) – this exotic and fairly erotic work painted and exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1885 sold for a record £1.7 million (about $3.1 million); Mihaly Munkacsy’s By the Stream fetched £525,000 (about $970,000); Sir Joshua Reynold’s Portrait of Mrs. Baldwin brought £3 million (over $5.5 million); Sir John Everett Millais’ Cherry Ripe sold for £1 million (about $1.85 million); and Casper David Friedrich’s small (14 x 19 inch) A Nordic Landscape, Spring commanded £920,000 (about $1.7 million) – this painting was purchased 2 years ago in a small sale in Germany as an unattributed landscape in somewhat poor condition for 3,000 Euros (about $3,700). The new owner had it properly conserved and then presented it to the current Friedrich expert who confirmed its authenticity … not a bad return!
The Old Master market also had a few highlights. I am sure that most of you are aware that Johannes Vermeer’s Young Girl Seated at the Virginals (estimated to make £3 million), which after 11 years of research by the owner was recently acknowledged by current scholars as an authentic works by Vermeer, was sold for just over £16 million (about $30 million) –rumor has it the Steve Wynn was the buyer. Other impressive results included Jan Lievens’ Study of an Old Man estimated at just £200,000-£300,000 made a record £1.85 million (approximately $3.4 million); Peter Paul Rubens’ A Night Scene with an Old Lady Holding a Candle and a Young Boy Taking Light from It made £2.46 million (about $4.5 million) and Bernado Daddi’s (c.1340-45) The Coronation of the Virgin sold for £1.57 million (about $2.9 million).
So much for a relaxing summer for us art dealers … but who’s complainingJ!!
Gallery Updates: Please remember that for the month of August the gallery’s hours are Tuesday – Thursday from 10am – 5:30pm and due to the Republican Convention and subsequent holiday weekend, we will be closed from August 27th – September 6th. The gallery has acquired new works by Henri J. Harpignies, Marius Roy, Marie Dieterle, and Joseph Caraud, some of which have been added to our web site (below are direct links to the images):
Virtual Exhibitions: Our biography upgrade is continuing. New bios on Bouguereau, Perrault, Vibert, Benner, Pelouse, Garnier, Frere, Roy, Harpignies, Caraud, Lesur, Laugée, Duez and Marais-Milton have been posted. This month we have added a work by Marie Dieterle to Rehs Galleries: A Visual History. It is an important work featuring a herd of cattle wandering down a country lane. If you have a moment, please take a look:
Since our last update we have sold a number of paintings by many of our favorite artists including Swatland, Dupré, Galien-Laloue, and Cortès. Images of most of these works have been added to their respective Virtual Exhibitions.
Next Month: Research …I talk about it quite a bit, but how does one go about finding information on an artist? I will give you some ideas.