A print and a multiple: the basics you need to know

By Anna Savitskaya - Friday, March 6, 2015
A print and a multiple: the basics you need to know

One of the upcoming and most anticipated Prints & Multiples auction will take place at Sotheby’s in London on March 17. The items on offer constitute an enticing selection of works by Old Masters, as well as Modern and Contemporary artists extending over the past 500 years.

A print and a multiple: the basics you need to know

One of the upcoming and most anticipated Prints & Multiples auction will take place at Sotheby’s in London on March 17. The items on offer constitute an enticing selection of works by Old Masters, as well as Modern and Contemporary artists extending over the past 500 years. The lots include  The Three Crosses by Rembrandt, Marc Chagall’s most significant portfolios, prints by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel, and Otto Dix, plus two exceptionally rare  works: Madonna by Edvard Munch, and Le Repas Frugal by Pablo Picasso. As for the contemporary selection, this includes Andy Warhol prints (and several trial colour proofs), in addition to prints and multiples by Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, Peter Doig, and Robert Rauschenberg. When surveying the various types of pieces that enter the arts market, it is important to ask: what is the distinction between an original and a print? How do a print and a multiple differ? What are the current price ranges and what would best suit your collection, regardless of how big or small it is? Séverine Nackers, Head of Prints for Sotheby’s Europe was very kind to answer our questions to unveil the secrets around this theme.

Artdependence Magazine: Can you define what is a print and what is a multiple? When does a piece of art become a multiple? What is the number of editions acceptable for a multiple?

Séverine Nackers: Multiples are not unique. A multiple is produced in a defined edition and the materials used can be infinite (in three dimensions, in mixed media, etc). As such, Picasso ceramics are considered multiples. A print is an impression taken from a particular matrix, whether that is a woodblock, a lithographic stone, or an etching plate for a few examples. Confusion can arise between reproductions and prints. A print is an original work, conceived of as a lithograph, or a woodcut, etc, rather than a printed reproduction of a work that already exists in another medium. Sometimes, impressions are pulled by the artist’s themselves, but more often, particularly with advent of formalized editions in the mid-20th century, the impressions are physically printed by a master printer or print studio from the block or plate that has been worked by the artist. The artist and printmaker collaborate during the process – hence the existence of trial proofs – and the artist signs original prints by hand, an acknowledgement that the resulting impression looks the way the artist intended.

AD: Is the interest for prints and multiples rising?

SN: Historically, the market for prints and multiples has been very steady, but in the same way that the art market has experienced rapid growth over the last five years, the market for prints and multiples is also growing. It is a diverse market, with price points at all levels, from under £1,000 upwards to £1 million. The strengths of the current market are iconic Pop prints by artists such as Warhol, Haring and Lichtenstein, with particularly notable prices for unique colour trial proofs and complete sets, modern works with bold colours or contrasts by artists such as Picasso and Miró, and works of particular rarity by printmaking masters such as Munch, Kirchner, Rembrandt or Dürer. There is a great opportunity for assembling collections of Picasso ceramics. Larger colour prints by Munch and Picasso and portfolios by Andy Warhol, regularly fetch top prices. Multiples entice younger collectors and first-time buyers too, a trend we have seen at our sales.

AD: Are the prices rising as a consequence?

SN: There are instances where we have seen prices rise in tandem with rising prices for paintings, for instance with artists such as Gerhard Richter and Cy Twombly. An abstract painting by Richter recently set a new benchmark for any living European artist at auction when a work sold at Sotheby’s for £30.4 million. Such is the demand for paintings by this German master – and Twombly too – that prints by both artists have seen a sharp rise in prices as collectors may become priced out of paintings or works and paper, and can appreciate that the printed oeuvre of these artists is equally compelling in its wallpower.


Lot 119
1863 - 1944
Lithograph printed in black, blue, red and olive-green, 1895-1902
£ 100,000-150,000 € 131,000-197,000

Lot 49
1606 - 1669
Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves: ‘The Three Crosses’
Drypoint, 1653, a fine impression of the fourth state (of five)
£ 200,000-300,000 € 262,000-393,000

Lot 63
1887 - 1985
Daphnis & Chloe
The complete portfolio, comprising 42 lithographs printed in colours, with text by Longus, 1961, signed in black ink on the justification, numbered 39, from the total edition of 270, loose (as issued), on Arches wove paper, contained in the original paper-covered boards and slipcase
£ 130,000-180,000 € 171,000-236,000


Lot 121
1881 - 1973
Tête de femme
Etching, 1905, from la suite des Saltimbanques
£ 3,000-5,000 € 3,950-6,600

Lot 214
1928 - 1987
Car Crash
Unique screenprint, 1978, with ‘The Estate of
Andy Warhol’ and ‘Authorized by the Andy
Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ inkstamps
£ 130,000-180,000 € 171,000-236,000

All images are courtesy Sotheby’s.

More information on the auction is here.


Anna is a graduate of Moscow’s Photo Academy, with a previous background in intellectual property rights. In 2012 she founded the company Perspectiva Art, dealing in art consultancy, curatorship, and the coordination of exhibitions. During the bilateral year between Russia and The Netherlands in 2013, Perspectiva Art organized a tour for a Dutch artist across Russia, as well as putting together several exhibitions in the Netherlands, curated by Anna. Since October 2014, Anna has taken an active role in the development and management of ArtDependence Magazine. Anna interviews curators and artists, in addition to reviewing books and events, and collaborating with museums and art fairs.

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