From Portraits to Pop: Specialist Picks from Prints & Multiples

Launch Slideshow

With iconic works by Rembrandt, Picasso, Lichtenstein and Warhol to name but a few, the Prints & Multiples auction at Sotheby's on 20 September offers exceptional examples of printmaking spanning 600 years. Here we present to you eighteen stand-out themes and impressions, hand-picked by the specialists of the London Prints department.

Prints & Multiples
London | 20 September 2017

From Portraits to Pop: Specialist Picks from Prints & Multiples

  • Hommage a Picasso, Edited by Dr. Wieland Schmied, Complete portfolio, 1973. Estimate: £50,000–70,000.
    In 1971 the German publisher, Propyläen Press, invited 69 artists to contribute to a portfolio of prints to honour Picasso’s 90th birthday. These artists included Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton, Cy Twombly, along with many many more; each interpreted the task with their own individual artistic vocabulary to honour Picasso.


    Hamilton combined a plethora of printmaking techniques to his re-imagined Diego Velasquez's Las Meninas, as Picasso had done in 1957, with each figure depicted in Picassco's many and varied styles. David Hockney chose to portray himself as a student approaching Picasso, depicted as a large bust upon a large marble plinth, while Warhol rendered Picasso's daughter Paloma in a bright but simple screenprint, entitled Paloma Picasso. The incredible diversity of these artist's responses to Picasso's work is impeccably counteracted by the unity of the overarching concept.  

  • Roy Lichtenstein, Modern Head #2 (c.92), Lithograph, 1970. Estimate: £7,000–9,000.
    The Modern Head series was the first artistic output to come from Lichtenstein's collaboration with Kenneth Tyler, the founder and master printer of Gemini G.E.L. Though this Los Angeles based workshop and publisher was relatively new, having only opened in 1966, it had already gained renown for its technical expertise. Indeed, this is both evident in and integral to the Modern Head series as each work was produced using various and distinct methods of printing. Faithful to this technically experimental character of the series, Modern Head #2 is a collaboration of the techniques of lithography, line-cut, and embossing. Lichtenstein, in a discussion with John Coplans, had said about the project: "I mean to make a man look like a machine". Mechanical processes were then key to the final aesthetic.

  • Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger (F. & S. II.140, 141, 144, 145), Screenprint in colours, 1975.
    Estimates range from: £15,000–20,000 to £20,000–30,000.
    Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger first met in New York in 1963 when the Rolling Stones were still relatively unknown in the United States. It was then that they commissioned Warhol to design the cover for their recent album Sticky Fingers. In this initial interaction, Warhol and Jagger established a long lasting professional and personal relationship. By the 1970s, Warhol was moving away from 'found imagery' and turning towards real-life subjects. In his set of ten Mick Jagger portraits, the two collaborated to produce the now iconic imagery seen here created using photographs, collage, and hand-drawn elements that were then printed.

  • Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Sheet of Studies: Head of the Artist, a Beggar Couple, Heads of an Old Man and Old Woman, etc. (B., Holl. 363; New Holl. 115; H. 90); Studies of the Head of Saskia and Others (B., Holl. 365; New Holl. 157; H. 145). Etchings, 1632–1636. Estimates range from: £4,000–6,000 to £6,000–8,000.
    Between 1633 and 1665, Rembrandt etched fewer than two dozen formal portraits, yet this small body of work comprises some of his most personal and sought-after prints. In these etched portrait studies ( Sheet of Studies: Head of the Artist, A Beggar Couple, Heads of an Old Man and Old Woman, etc. and Studies of the Head of Saskia and Others ), you can see the depth of thought and artistry infused into each and every detail of the shapes and faces that recur frequently throughout his oeuvre of printed portraits.

  • Israhel van Meckenem, The Angry Wife, (G. 406; L., Holl. 504)Engraving, circa 1500. Estimate: £5,000–7,000.
    Israhel van Meckenem began his artistic career as an apprentice to his father, a well-known goldsmith-engraver. Upon completing a subsequent apprenticeship with his mentor and idol Master E. S., Meckenem conformed with the belief that an artisan ought to have a wife to look after his workshop apprentices, and married Ida Ernstes.


    In this engraving , Meckenem depicts a young wife beating her husband, encouraged by the devil hovering menacingly in the background. Popular interpretations range from a humorous self portrait of Meckenem and his wife Ida Ernstes, to a social commentary on the battle between husband and wife for supremacy within the household.

  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Abendszene (Gercken 1013; Dube L361), Lithograph, 1919. Estimate: £20,000–30,000.
    This vibrant colour lithograph depicting a chaotic night scene – one of only seven known in existence – vividly demonstrates the experimental nature of Kirchner's printmaking technique, in particular his far-reaching vision of colour lithography. Conventionally, each colour would be printed from a different stone by a professional lithographer, however, lacking access to so many stones, Kirchner instead repeatedly drew and hand printed from the same stone. This is evident in the inky margins surrounding the image, each of which outline the same irregular curvature of the single stone, and testify to Kirchner's painterly understanding of lithography.

  • Wassily Kandinsky, Violett (R. 178), Lithograph, 1923. Estimate: £20,000–30,000.
    Violett (1923) offers a perfect visual representation of Kandinsky's spiritual philosophy. In the artist's 1911 seminal text Concerning the Spiritual in Art, he sets forth the prophetic role of the artist, and the symbiotic relationship between colour and form. This lithograph concerns itself most closely with violet, a shade of the artist's favourite blue. For Kandinsky, this shade was a celestial colour: "the deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural." Kandinsky, 1911.

  • Francisco José de Goya y Lucietes, The Bulls of Bordeaux (Harris 283-286; Delteil 286-289), Complete set of four lithographs, 1825. Estimate: £70,000–100,000.
    By the time Goya came to work on The Bulls of Bordeaux the theme of bull fighting was one with which he was intimately familiar. In contrast to his series of 33 etchings, La Tauromaquia, which captured the complexity of the split-second interactions between torero and bull, these four lithographs take a broader view of the scenes while the circular movement and interplay of light and dark result in a powerful depth. The Bulls of Bordeaux celebrates Goya's skill in the exciting new medium of lithography. Invented in 1798, it appealed to his experimental nature, and the freedom of execution that Goya developed with it had a profound influence on future artists experimenting with the medium.

  • Albrecht Dürer, The Landscape with the Cannon, (B. 99; M., Holl 96), Etching, 1518. Estimate: £20,000–30,000.
    The Landscape with the Cannon was both Dürer's largest and last etching. One of only six etched scenes created by the artist, it stands as one of art history’s earliest landscape etchings, a forefather of the rich lineage of panoramic landscapes. As one of the first to experiment with the etching technique, and preceeding the days of copper plates, Dürer used iron plates susceptible to rust damage. This particular print is one of the rare impressions printed in Dürer's lifetime, before rust spots across the printing plate began to obstruct the image.

  • Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, The Large Lion Hunt, (B., Holl. 114; New Holl. 187; H. 181); The Small Lion Hunt (with one Lion) (B., Holl. 116; New Holl. 29; H. 6); The Small Lion Hunt (with two Lions). (B., Holl. 115; New Holl. 28; H. 180). Etchings, circa 1629–1641. Estimates range from: £2,000–3,000 to £10,000–15,000.
    "Rembrandt at the age of twenty-four evidently did not possess sufficient knowledge to draw animals or figures from memory with the correctness necessary to make them convincing". Holmes, 1906.

    It was not until over twenty years later, when a lion was brought to the Dutch Republic by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), that the artist was able to apply a newly acquired understanding of the predator’s anatomy to his later illustrations of this subject. These works show an early fascination with the strength, power, and movement of this beast that would remain evident throughout his life ( The Large Lion Hunt ; The Small Lion Hunt (with one Lion) ; and The Small Lion Hunt (with two Lions) ).  

  • Georges Rouault, Les fleurs du mal (C. & R. 274-285), Complete set of 12 aquatints, 1936–38.
    Estimate: £20,000–30,000.
    "In his paintings he combined oil, tempera, gouache, pastel, watercolour and India ink in an infinite variety of ways; when he turned to print-making he showed the same copious ingenuity and disrespect for all conventions." Monroe Wheeler, 1938

    Each of the twelve aquatints in this portfolio differs from the final edition in a variety of ways. The most substantial alterations can be seen in the extensive hand-colouring in black gouache and variations in the strength and depth of the coloured inks in this vibrant example of Christ (de face).

  • Pablo Picasso, Portrait de Vollard, IV (B. 233; Ba. 619); Portrait de Vollard, III (B. 232; Ba. 617); Portrait de Vollard, II (Bloch 231), Etching and Aquatints, 1937. Estimates range from: £2,000–3,000 to £3,000–4,000.
    La suite Vollard, a series of 100 etchings created by Picasso between 1930 and 1937, was one of Ambroise Vollard's most impressive undertakings. One of the greatest art dealers and publishers of the 20th Century, Vollard remained relatively unknown during his lifetime due to the high price of the limited editions that he produced, made them accessible to only a few wealthy collectors and institutions. Today, however, he is known for his unparalleled artistic instinct and his championship of previously controversial artists including Cézanne, Renoir, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Rouault, and of course Picasso. The final three plates of La suite Vollard were these three etched portraits of Picasso's dealer, patron, and friend ( Portrait de Vollard, IV ; Portrait de Vollard, III ; Portrait de Vollard, II ).  

  • Albrecht Dürer, The Turkish Family, (B. 85; M., Holl. 80), Engraving, circa 1496. Estimate: £5,000–7,000.
    At the time that Dürer created this engraving of the Turkish Family , Northern Europe was both fascinated and frightened by the rapid westward expansion of the Ottoman Empire. While Dürer was not the first to turn his hand to the subject of Ottoman expansion, few looked to the Turkish citizens, instead favouring depictions of the larger political picture of battle scenes, treaties, and Sultans.


    Many have questioned the message of this simple and intimate portrayal of the Turkish family, seeing this print as an unfavourable depiction of the Ottomans as near-savages, representative of Northern Europe's fear of the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Others have highlighted the sympathetic nature of the image, and the depiction of the family in an intimate moment in the midst of their own personal struggle.

  • Andy Warhol, Reigning Queens (F. & S. II.334, 339, 342, 349), Screenprint in colours with diamond dust, 1985. Estimates range from: £4,000–6,000 to £35,000–45,000.
    In 1985 Warhol set out to depict the four reigning female monarchs of the time in his series Reigning Queens, using official photographs while incorporating his familiar blocks of colour. The result was these striking examples of Pop art, where each work is as, or more, vibrant than the next. The four present screenprints ( Queen Elizabeth II of The United Kingdom ; Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands ; Queen Margrethe II of Denmark ; and Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland ) are each from the 'Royal Edition’, sparkling with the addition of diamond dust. Warhol once famously declared: "I want to be as famous as the Queen of England." With these four prints, the viewer is asked to engage in the familiar rivalry between icon and iconography, and are left to wonder whether the artist achieved his goal. 

  • Chuck Close, Lucas Paper/Pulp, Stencilled handmade paper print, 2006. Estimate: £8,000–12,000.
    "Chuck Close's subjects are his family, his friends, himself, and fellow artists whose faces are described through his distinct, meticulous marks. Working from a gridded photograph, Chuck Close builds his images by applying one careful stroke after another in multi-colors or grayscale. Chuck Close works are generally larger than life and highly focused. For Chuck Close, it is the process of description that renders meaning, rather than the subject itself." Pace Prints, New York.

  • Jasper Johns, Periscope (ULAE 218), Etching with aquatint, 1981. Estimate: £8,000–12,000.
    Jasper John's employment of repetition in motifs and symbols is perhaps what most delights the viewer. When we encounter his works they are at first familiar, before we slowly begin to re-examine the artist's own re-examination. This is perhaps most true of his print-making.


    For Johns, process and content are intrinsically linked. "So intimately does Johns enfold the content of his prints into the processes of making and so deftly does he extract the majority of his meanings from the most fundamental characteristics of printmaking itself, that we are hard pressed to decide whether it is the nature of print media or John’s own cast of mind that has made his contributions so profound." Field, 1994.

  • Andy Warhol, Old Fashioned Vegetable (F. & S. II.54), Screenprint in colours, 1969. Estimate: £8,000–12,000.
    In the early 1960s, Warhol began to experiment with reproductions based on advertisements, newspaper clippings and other mass-produced images of American popular culture. Within this new genre soon to be known as Pop art, came his two ubiquitous series' featuring Campbell's soup cans.

    "Some people who knew Warhol claim that he loved Campbell's soup because his mother had served it to him every day for lunch, and other people claim that he hated it, possibly for the same reason… Is his work a commentary on the shallowness, repetitiveness, and commercialism of consumer culture, or is it a celebration of supermarkets and Hollywood, a romp with the vulgar—a commentary on the highbrow Puritanism of the fine-art tradition?" The New Yorker, 2011

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