1. NEW YORK - Wall Street Journal - Works Produced After Artists’ Deaths Pose Challenges for Collectors
Molds and plates can still be used for years, hurting values of sculptures and prints
Estate casts of Remington sculptures run $100,000 to $1 million, says Sotheby’s Liz Sterling. A lifetime cast of ‘Wounded Bunkie’ reached $5.6 million in 2008.
Estate casts of Remington sculptures run $100,000 to $1 million, says Sotheby’s Liz Sterling. A lifetime cast of ‘Wounded Bunkie’ reached $5.6 million in 2008. Photo: Sotheby?s New York
By Daniel Grant
Updated Feb. 13, 2017 8:35 a.m. ET
Life after death can be common in the workshops of famous sculptors and printers. Sometimes, way too common.
For years after an artist’s demise, the same molds and plates the artist used to produce original works can be reused by their heirs or appointed licensees to continue in the artists’ footsteps, making copies indefinitely.
Indeed, the posthumous output of some artists can greatly exceed the number of works they produced while living. What’s more, the quality of the posthumous work tends to vary—as do the differences in value.
So, for collectors of sculpture and fine prints, it is essential not only to know whether a work was created during the artist’s lifetime, but when and where it was cast or printed, and, if it is a posthumous piece, by whose hand.
Pinning down details about 20th-century and more recent works typically is not difficult because modern printmakers and sculptors have kept better records than their forebears, and tend to produce more limited editions. But for artists from the 18th and 19th centuries, it’s a completely different story. In many cases, numerous editions have been produced over decades, if not centuries, without much of a paper trail of what was done and when.
Take Francisco de Goya, one of Spain’s most treasured artists. Goya died in 1828 at the age of 82. In 1799, he oversaw the printing of a set of 80 etchings and aquatints known as “Los Caprichos,” or “Whims,” scenes mocking the ignorance and superstition in Spanish society. Only one edition of “Los Caprichos” was printed during Goya’s lifetime. But the artist willed the plates to the Prado Museum in Madrid, which has periodically leased them since that time to different publishers as a fundraiser. By 1937 there were 12 known editions. There is no record of how many editions have been printed since.
For most fine prints in general, earlier editions are the most sought-after, because they more closely reflect the artist’s intentions. Printing plates tend to wear out, producing less-distinct images over time; the lines cut into the plates get clogged with dried ink and need to be re-incised by someone else. Later, posthumous-edition prints no longer clearly reflect the hand of the artist, have less prestige and usually bring lower prices.
An undamaged print from the first edition of “Los Caprichos” would be priced at $3,000 to $5,000, according to James Goodfriend, owner of New York’s C&J Goodfriend Drawings and Prints. Prints from the posthumous second and third editions, dated 1855 and 1868, respectively, “are very good and very hard to tell apart,” he adds, but sell for $1,500 to $2,000. Mr. Goodfriend says he sells prints from later editions, however, for $150.
Lifetime etching of Francisco Goya y Lucientes from the “Los Caprichos” set.
Lifetime etching of Francisco Goya y Lucientes from the “Los Caprichos” set. Photo: Sotheby's
“I only keep them around to show people what not to buy,” he says. The lines are not as sharp. The shading weakens or is uneven or has just disappeared.” Still, he says, “I see some people pay $800 to $900 for these things at auction.”
A principal source for identifying artworks is a catalogue raisonné, an annotated listing of all the known artworks by an artist. Catalogues raisonnés, found in museum and university libraries, provide illustrations that can be checked against an artwork. They also note when certain editions were produced, numbers of copies (if that information was available), which print publisher or foundry made the edition, changes made and the quality of the work.
Alice Duncan, director of New York’s Gerald Peters Gallery, recommends always asking for an artwork’s history of ownership, or provenance, and the date the work was produced, as well.
Art advisers will do this kind of research for a collector, but such help doesn’t come cheap. Advisers usually charge around 10% of the value of the art being acquired, though they may set fees on a per-hour basis. Wendy Cromwell, a Manhattan adviser, puts the hourly range at between $75 and $250, depending upon the experience of the adviser.
To judge the value of good detective work, consider the works of an artist as well known as Frederic Remington. Posthumous sculptures attributed to Remington are so numerous that art dealers are particularly wary of their histories. Remington, who lived from 1861 to 1909, is famed for his lifelike depictions of the American West, particularly his bronze statues of cowboys and cavalrymen on horseback.
“Ninety percent of the things that say ‘By Frederic Remington’ I wouldn’t get near, and 90% may be a low estimate,” says Ms. Duncan, who says her gallery will only take on consignment Remington sculptures that can be proved to have been produced during the artist’s lifetime or by authority of his widow, Eva, who died in 1918.
After 1918, unknown quantities of “Remingtons” were produced as the foundry used by Remington himself cast more bronzes using his molds, and other foundries created their own molds using existing sculptures as models. The copies may look close, but when compared with documented Remington sculptures, the differences become evident.
Liz Sterling, senior vice president and head of American art at Sotheby’s , says the median price of lifetime casts of Remington’s sculptures are “several million dollars,” reaching a high of $5.6 million at Sotheby’s in 2008 for the artist’s 1896 “Wounded Bunkie.” Prices for estate casts, those made under Eva Remington’s authority, of the same pieces range from $100,000 to $1 million, she says, and the auction house does not handle castings later than 1918.
Mr. Grant is a writer living in Amherst, Mass. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Appeared in the February 13, 2017, print edition as 'After Artists Die, Their Molds and Plates Live On.'