6 reasons why you should be collecting prints and multiples

Today, cultural democratization and art reproduction are such that we are entitled to observe the impact it has on prints and multiples sales. Here are a few reasons why you should consider collecting them:


Prints and multiples are at the heart of the debate as they embody the confusion between the artistic and the non-artistic, the aesthetical production and the industrial process. Prints and multiples are often considered as less important than original works. However, their market is increasing steadily (1,2% of the whole market value in 2015), confirming that art amateurs are enthusiastic about collecting them. Auction results also re-affirmed the strong position that prints and multiples carry within the larger art market.


Richard Hamilton, Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? (1956)
Considered by art historians as the first Pop Art artwork


When assessing 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?

A multiple is produced in a defined edition and the materials used are various. 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, etc. Confusion can occur between prints and reproductions. A print is an original work, conceived of as a lithograph or a serigraphy, rather than a printed reproduction of an already existing work. Sometimes, impressions are done by the artist themselves, but more often, a print studio physically prints impression from a block or plate that has been worked by the artist. The artist and printmaker collaborate during the process and the artist eventually signs original prints by hand, an acknowledgement that the resulting work looks the way the artist envisioned.


Andy Warhol, Campbells Soup Vegetable (1985), Courtesy of Galerie Fluegel Roncak


The development of the genre is often mistakenly associated with the 60’s, however, multiples date back to the Roman times. The « prints and multiples » departments of auction houses often consign 500 year old artworks. The latest and most remarkable sales include artworks of Rembrandt, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Otto Dix and Marc Chagal. Artists such as Miró, Picasso, and Munch stand alongside Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, Peter Doig, Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg.


Marc Chagall, Daphnis et Chloé (1961). Courtesy of Tériade Editeur, Paris


What could explain the collectors’ infatuation for artworks that are not considered as worthy as unique pieces? Prints and multiples offer a great opportunity to collect artworks of modern and contemporary masters at a lower cost, and delve into a different facet of the artist. Collections of Picasso’s ceramics, prints of Munch, Kirchner, Rembrandt or Dürer as well as Pop Art multiples are collected with eagerness and have witnessed a sharp rise in their price. It should also be noted that the value market of prints and multiples generally follows the attractiveness of the artists.


Roy Lichtenstein, Drowning girl (1981), Courtesy of l’Oeuf galerie


Hamilton, Warhol and Lichtenstein are pioneer figures of the Pop Art movement. The three of them have firmly established Prints and Multiple as a serious and collectable genre. In their determination to democratize art in its practice and access, they have turned to reproduction and have widely talked and written about the subject. The techniques used by these Pop artists reflect that an artwork does not need to be unique to convey a strong message. Through the serial character of the print, they want to abolish the much-vaunted uniqueness of the artwork in Art history. They have built their work around a reflexion on modern consumerism. Their aim is not to reinterpret art but rather operate as industrial machines. Likewise, Pop artists’ techniques evoke industrial processes: Hamilton produces collages with images gathered from magazines and advertisements, Lichtenstein reinterprets Benday dots and Warhol uses serigraphy.


Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bird on money (1981), Courtesy of l’Oeuf galerie


Their art maintain a close relationship with mass culture and presents a committed reflexion on the consumerist society. However, is it a valid reason to consider the print as a banal production because of its large diffusion?

Lichtenstein considers that a distinction is to be made between objects of material culture, which are the subject of the artwork, and between the art pieces.

The artist himself said that « Commercial art is not our art, it is our thesis ». In this vision, prints and multiples are legitimate, democratic, and convey the vision of the artist without compromising on the meaning.