Scott Reyburn has a remarkable piece on the print market focusing on last week’s sales in London where the top lots—a Warhol Marilyn portfolio, a Kirchner and several Munchs—didn’t light up the board. As is often the case, the top of the market is least interesting place to look. Though the Picasso print of ‘Buste de femme d’après Cranach le Jeune’ eeked out an advance on a previous top price, the real action in the market is attributable to a growing influx of buyers who are priced out of the painting market or don’t want to start with unknown and untried names:
Sotheby’s sale, which ranged in works from the 15th to 21st centuries, raised a mid-estimate £4.1 million from 209 lots, a healthy 84 percent of which were successful. These figures might seem paltry compared to the numbers of a Sotheby’s auction of original contemporary works, but Ms. Nackers said that 28 percent of her buyers were new to the company.
In the past, the arcane technicalities of printmaking have intimidated potential clients, turning the field into a niche sector. But now, encouraged by the soaring prices of original art and the availability of images of these prints online, a new international crowd that doesn’t know the difference between etching and drypoint, or mezzotint and lithotint — and isn’t really that bothered — has entered the market.
“These sales have become image-driven,” said the London-based art adviser Patrick Legant, who attended both Sotheby’s auction, and the 192-lot print selection Christie’s offered the following day. “People are attracted by lovely things with art-historical gravitas that are reasonably priced,” he added. […]
Back in 2008, Christie’s took £28 million in auction sales of prints. Last year that figure had risen to £51.8 million. Specialist connoisseur collectors prepared to pay £150,000 for a print might be dwindling, but it seems they’re being replaced by a new breed of “name and image” buyers.
The Esoteric World of Print Collecting (NYTimes.com)