Auctions 20th Century Art Auction is a well curated selection of paintings and prints by major and lesser known artists from the post-war period through to the 1990s. The sale examines the evolution of art throughout the 20th century and offers the chance to add works by influential artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Robert Motherwell, and comparatively priced pieces by artists with an auction record but far less profile. The lots available highlight the question of whether it is wiser to buy editions from the masters or originals from their potentially undervalued contemporaries.Most art consultants will advise you to buy what you love and not to expect a profit from acquisitions, but at the same time there is a belief that the right acquisitions can appreciate in value – sometimes astronomically.
If you plan to buy as an investment there are always risks involved – many purchases will depreciate, but there is far less prospect of this when it comes to blue chip artists. Although there are very few artists, even at this level, who are guaranteed to increase steadily in value, there are some who can be relied on for returns over a long period. An original major work from one of these artists is going to be unaffordable to any but those with the deepest pockets but buying prints can be a great way to acquire pieces by these famous artists at affordable prices.
And prints are often fascinating in their own right. Artists like Picasso and Rauschenberg were not only interested in using printmaking to create iconic images but also advanced the medium through constant innovation. The history of printmaking charts technological change from the emergence of engraving in the 15th century to digital printing in the 21st. Techniques such as etching, woodcut, silkscreen,and lithography have enabled artists to produce multiple versions of the same work. Prints have reached seven or eight-figure prices at auctions (The Frugal Repastby Picasso sold for £1,945,250 in 2012 and Au lit: Le baiser, a lithograph by Toulouse-Lautrec reached $12,485,000) but because prints are available in editions, they are usually much more affordable than one-of-a-kind pieces.
While you don’t need to study printmaking to enjoy prints, an understanding of the different techniques can enrich your appreciation. Many of the prints in this auction are Lithographs. These are authorized copies of original works of art. Sometimes these copies are made by the artist and sometimes the copies are made by others. In general, print runs of lithographs are kept low to preserve the value of each individual print. While a lithograph will rarely bring as much as the original artwork, they can be quite valuable even while being relatively affordable.
The lots in this auction from Miro and Chagall and others see editions of 75 and 100 – a fairly low number. Pablo Picasso’s Vieux Beau Salutant Très Bas Une Pupille De La Célestine is one of a particularly tempting edition of 50.The more copies of the same lithograph there are on the market, the less any individual piece will bring. In some cases, the original plate will be destroyed after the print run, ensuring that no future copies of the piece will be made to dilute the value of existing lithographs.For data-driven buyers, prints are a great place to start as if you are wondering whether to buy a specific print, you can research auction results for other artworks from the same edition. These direct comparable scan give you a sense of an artwork’s value and can help guide your bidding decisions at auction.
But paradoxically, a famous artist may not be your best choice for purchasing a lithograph for its investment potential as lithographs by extremely famous artists tend to command a high price from the outset, which means that there is less potential for growth. You may be better off looking for attractive lithographs from up-and-coming or undervalued artists — the advantage here is that you’re likely to pay less at the outset. Andrey Vereshagin’s Quick Built Pegasus and Three Bridges are good examples from a potentially undervalued emerging artist.
At this other end of the spectrum there are many artists that haven’t been finally judged by the marketplace. The best investment would be to acquire the leading artist of his or her generation when they’re young and to hold the work for a long time – this is where the great returns are. But you need to be very patient and very, very lucky. A more likely outcome is a fair return on an artist who develops a career over time, or who is currently undervalued and receives greater recognition after a reappraisal. By adding such artists to your collections, you can in fact help to raise their profile and foster exactly that kind of reappraisal.
So how do you differentiate between an artist that holds long-term promise as an investment and an artist that may fade away into obscurity. If the artist is emerging you can look at whether they are represented by a gallery, if that gallery has a good profile and whether any work has been acquired by a museum or interesting private collection? Being part of a good collection will secure the artist’s standing and stabilize their price. It also makes sense to look at the age of the artist- has their rise to prominence been swift and does it look like they have a great career ahead of them; or have they passed away and left a body of work waiting to be reassessed? When buying works from these artists, you will find, particularly at auction, that you’re able to buy original paintings and that allows you to hold the only copy of that image. The risk of depreciation might be higher than when buying a print from a well-known artist, but the possible rate of return is much higher.
Whichever path you choose, it’s worth remembering that you should be prepared to hold onto any artwork you purchase for investment for a long time. Art tends to appreciate slowly and is always subject to fashion.