S otheby’s London’s September Prints & Multiples auction presents a selection of graphic works spanning the 20th and 21st centuries. From the Belle Epoque to the present day, the prints and multiples on offer survey the evolution of modern and contemporary printmaking practices. Highlights from the modern era include early etchings like Pablo Picasso’s groundbreaking Le Repas Frugal, as well a rare and striking proof impression of his 1952 aquatint La Femme à la Fenêtre. Contemporary printmaking is then best represented by a selection of Francis Bacon works from the collection the Tacou family, and experimental Pop screenprints, such as Andy Warhol’s diamond-dust encrusted portraits of Joseph Beuys.
Francis Bacon turned to printmaking late in life, at the behest of his dear friend Eddy Batache. To illustrate Batache’s publications La Mysticité Charnelle de René Crevel and Requiem pour la fin des temps, Bacon delved into printmaking at the age of 67, and then continued to create prints based on his expressive paintings. Throughout his brief and late printmaking career, he was able to re-visit some of his favourite subjects on canvas, translating them on to paper. He worked with world-class printers in Paris and Barcelona, who had once collaborated with artists such as Picasso and Chagall, to create 36 editions.
In this sale, Sotheby’s is delighted to present a selection of Bacon’s prints from the collection of esteemed Bacon connoisseur Alexandre Tacou. Acquired directly from Tacou, the 13 works on offer survey Bacon’s lithographs, and etchings with aquatint. From triptychs to single sheets, each colourful portrait is packed with the drama and movement of Bacon’s large-scale paintings.
Sotheby’s Prints & Multiples auction features several momentous graphic works by Picasso spanning crucial moments in his virtuosic printmaking career. Picasso's second-ever etching, Le Repas frugal, created when the artist was only 23 years old, is still considered one of his most accomplished prints and is widely regarded as the final masterpiece of his Blue Period. Faune dévoilant une femme, an interpretation of Rembrandt’s 1659 etching Jupiter and Antiope, has long been held up as the most masterful of the Suite Vollard prints, and is, according to Brigitte Baer, ‘one of the most beautiful in the artist’s engraved work’. La Femme à la Fenêtre represents Picasso’s unprecedented experimentation with aquatint, and this rare and early proof, presumably printed before the plate was steel-faced, displays exceptional richness, contrast and luminosity.
The sale includes a selection of works by Andy Warhol from the early 1960s until the mid-1980s. Early works include Flowers (1964), Jackie I (1966) and Hot Dog Bean Soup (1968); in the latter, Warhol employed the signature motif that propelled his ascent to stardom.
Though the popularity of these early subjects has meant that Warhol is often considered to be synonymous with the visual culture of the 1960s, many of his most desirable graphic subjects were in fact conceived two decades later, including: the set of Joseph Beuys (1980), Van Heusen (Ronald Reagan) from Ads; Howdy Doody (1985) from Myths; and Queen Beatrix from Reigning Queens (1985). Together these images demonstrate Warhol’s enduring fascination with public figures and the icons of advertising and consumer culture.
Joseph Beuys encapsulates the hallmarks of a Warhol portrait, from the artist’s trademark colour blocks to the typically Warholian repetition of symbols and imagery. The portraits are based on a single Polaroid photograph taken by Warhol in 1971 when he met Joseph Beuys for the first time. It may seem startling that the two artists admired each other: Warhol was obsessed with celebrity culture and consumerism whilst Beuys, activist and shaman, made work that was grounded in concepts of humanism, social philosophy, and anthroposophy. Nevertheless, the pair recognised each other’s genius, myth-like reputation and prominence. As the American art critic David Bourdon put it, their meeting in New York, “had all the ceremonial aura of two rival popes meeting in Avignon.”
The bohemian Parisian neighbourhood of Montmartre was home to one of the most prolific artists of the late 19th century, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Lautrec’s uniquely candid depictions of the nightlife scene – as shown in the iconic lithographic poster, Divan Japonais, for example – became synonymous with avant-garde and Belle Époque culture.
Toulouse-Lautrec’s subjects ranged from aristocrats to entertainers. However, it was through the depiction of performers in advertisement posters that he elevated his medium to the realm of fine art. Much like Warhol’s twentieth century muses, Lautrec’s subjects acquired a celebrity status; figures like Yvette Guilbert thus became iconic cultural symbols.
An early adopter of print innovation – Lautrec became the first artist to use the medium of lithography to produce large and bold prints that remained attentive to detail. This graphic sensibility undoubtedly draws from the artist’s interest in Edo period ukiyo-e woodblock prints which emphasise flatness and unusual compositional angles such as Caudieux and Irish and American Bar, Rue Royale.