Powerful Prints & Masterful Multiples

Launch Slideshow

Sotheby's forthcoming Prints & Multiples sale includes some of the most celebrated graphic productions created by Old Master, modern and contemporary printmakers. Leading the sale is a jewel-toned impression of Edvard Munch’s Two Human Beings. The Lonely Ones. This will be accompanied by an exceedingly important collection of prints by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Comprising etchings, lithographs and woodcuts from the artist’s periods in Dresden, Berlin and Davos, this collection elucidates the virtuosity of Kirchner's printmaking career, which saw the artist push each technique he employed to its absolute and most powerful ends. 

Prints & Multiples
27 September | London

Powerful Prints & Masterful Multiples

  • Edvard Munch, Two Human Beings. The Lonely Ones (W. 157; Sch. 133), woodcut in turquoise-blue, black, reddish-orange, yellow, brown and green, 1899. Estimate £400,000–600,000.
    To create Two Human Beings. The Lonely Ones, Munch cut the woodblock into sections to be inked separately, before reassembling them to be printed together. The ocean; the man sutured to the land; and the figure of the woman constitute the three individual parts of the woodcut. The components of the image are therefore indivisible yet distinct. As Dieter Bucchart puts it: ''Though the man and the woman are presented close to each other, the distance between them seems to be insurmountable, and they both remain alone, caught in paralysis.'' (Edvard Munch: Love, Death, Loneliness, p.101).

  • Jusepe de Ribera, The Poet (Ba 10; Br 3), etching, 1620–21.
    Estimate £6,000–8,000.
    The Poet is considered to be one of the most striking compositions of Jusepe de Ribera's small yet accomplished graphic oeuvre. This superb, early impression of the rare etching is characterised by generous inking, dramatic contrasts and a rich veil of tone. 

  • Andy Warhol, Shadows II (F. & S. II.210-215), six unique screenprints in colours with diamond dust, 1979. Estimate £100,000–150,000.
    Seemingly distinct within Warhol’s oeuvre, the compositions in the portfolio Shadows II evade classification. Whilst theories regarding the portfolio’s subject matter proliferate, the key to these prints does not lie in the subject. Instead, the importance of Shadows II can be found in its surface: in the subtle nuance of colour in the diamond dust, in the play of light and dark and matte and sparkle, and in the blown-up, exaggerated scale. Shadows II thus epitomises the artist's statement: ''if you want to know all about Andy Warhol just look at the surface of my paintings…there’s nothing behind it''. (Warhol cited in K. Goldsmith, I’ll Be Your Mirror, p. 85).

  • James Ensor, Les étoiles au cimetière (D., T., E. 56), etching and drypoint, 1888. Estimate £20,000–30,000.
    James Ensor pushed the boundaries of his medium in creating this extremely scarce print, utilising sulphur remarkably heavily to bite the copper plate. The experimental nature of this process resulted in an image that borders on the abstract; the work's haunting subject matter is therefore most clearly denoted by Ensor's descriptive title. According to our records, only one other impression of this unusual subject has been offered at auction in at least three decades.

  • James Ensor, La Belgique au XIXe siècle (D. 90; T., E. 81), etching, 1889. Estimate £30,000– 50,000.
    La Belgique au XIXe siècle, one of Ensor's most powerful satirical subjects, depicts a mass of city dwellers being charged by gendarmes beneath the gaze of an inflated and apparently omnipotent King Leopold II. Ensor’s more politically charged prints, such as the present work, are now particularly rare as the artist withdrew them from circulation in 1929 shortly after being made a baron. 

  • James Ensor, Alimentation Doctrinaire, première planche (D., T., E. 79), etching, 1889. Estimate £30,000–50,000.
    There are seven known impressions of this subject, making Alimentation Doctrinaire arguably the rarest of James Ensor’s prints. This impression, a previously unrecorded counterproof which depicts the subject in reverse, is even more of a rarity. Relating closely to La Belgique au XIXe siècle, Ensor here depicts Belgium’s nineteenth-century ruling classes defecating into the open mouths of the masses below. This highly satirical print thus not only comments on the negligence of the ruling parties but also on the willingness of the people to accept the status quo.

  • Louis Jean Desprez, La Chimère de Monsieur Desprez (W. 22; B. 6), etching, 1777–84. Estimate £20,000–30,000.
    This fantastical etching depicts a monstrous mythical being in the process of digesting its human prey. Rena Hoisington notes both the originality and historical significance of the work: ''The print may have been inspired by other graphic work — imagery of human and animal musculature and skeletal systems; prints of monsters, demons and withcraft; the work of Piranesi — but if so Desprez thoroughly digested and transformed these sources, etching a brilliant composition that tapped into contemporary interest in the macabre sublime.'' (Artists and Amateurs: Etching in Eighteenth-Century France, p. 89).

  • Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait (W. 37; Sch. 31), lithograph, 1895.
    Estimate £50,000–70,000.
    ''Hardly any artist has looked at himself or herself in such a merciless and revealing way as Munch did in many of his self-portraits.'' (Iris Müller-Westermann, Munch by Himself, p.15) Among the most celebrated of these subjects, Munch's 1895 Self-Portrait demonstrates the lithographic medium's capacity for dramatic effect, accomplished here through striking contrasts of light and dark. By covering the background of this variation of the subject with densely-applied tusche, Munch created an image in which his head and neck are disembodied, while the border of the image connotes the artist's inevitable mortality.

  • Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe (F. & S. II.31), screenprint in colours, 1967. Estimate £70,000–100,000.
    Now considered to be seminal works not only of pop art but of twentieth-century art more broadly, Warhol’s Marilyns have perpetuated and even amplified the iconic status of their subject. Executed in 1967, this screenprint was created as part of a portfolio of ten works printed in contrasting colour combinations. The 'Pink Marilyn', as this colour combination is known, has since become the most celebrated and desirable of the variations. 

  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Akte auf einem Teppich (G. 448; D. 159), woodcut, 1910. Estimate £60,000–80,000.
    Akte auf einem Teppich was created in 1910, when Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was an active member of the Die Brücke group. A key medium for the Die Brücke artists was the woodcut, which Kirchner and his colleagues reinvigorated by encouraging the technique's capacity for immediate graphic impact. Here, the artist has employed the woodcut to create bodies from a combination of geometric and curved lines; these reduced markings imbue the scene with a sense of dynamic movement and a sensuous atmosphere.

    Of the three known impressions of this woodcut, this is the only example documented on canary yellow paper. Deborah Wye argues that the colour of the paper heightens the ''illicit undercurrent'' of Kirchner’s prints, as the colour ''approximates the lurid glow of artificial lights''. (Kirchner and the Berlin Street, p.72).

  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Drei Badende, Moritzburg (G. 449; D. 163), woodcut printed in blue, green and black, 1910.
    Estimate £80,000–120,000.
    The succinct and angular delineation, flatness of form and blatant eroticism that are evident in Drei Badende, Moritzburg, constitute some of the primary characteristics of the early work of the Die Brücke artists. This print depicts three nude women by the bank of Moritzburg lake. The Die Brücke artists often migrated to Moritzburg in the summer to study the human figure in the context of a natural landscape.

    This print is one of only seven known impressions, five of which were printed in colour.

  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Zwei Frauen (G. 681; D. 259), lithograph printed in black and orange, 1914. Estimate £100,000–150,000.
    Kirchner has been credited as the father of Die Brücke lithography. Envisioning each of his lithographs as a unique work, the artist preferred to create small editions of hand-pulled prints in an endeavour to experiment with varying visual effects.

    The female figures in this image are depicted using a reduced, angular formal language inspired by tribal art forms. For Kirchner, such treatment became a vehicle through which he could challenge academic depictions of the nude in early twentieth-century German art. 

  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Promenade vor dem Café (Kaiser-Café Berlin) (G. 670; D. 244), lithograph printed in black and pink, 1914.
    Estimate £80,000–120,000.
    Kirchner's Berlin street scenes are the most celebrated subjects of his oeuvre. To capture the energy of urban life in these subjects, Kirchner often employed aggressive lines and discordant perspectives. In lithographs such as Promenade vor dem Café, which depicts a café scene populated by prostitutes and their dark-suited admirers, these visual devices could be used freely; and in this composition, their vigorous application moves the work towards the realm of abstraction.

    This impression is one of only seven recorded examples of the subject. Owing to the experimental nature of Kirchner's hand-pulled printing techniques, each impression has a unique quality.

  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Drei Akte im Walde (D. 637), woodcut printed from seven blocks in turquoise, blue, red, yellow, dark-green, ochre and light-green, 1933. Estimate £80,000–120,000.
    After a nervous breakdown during World War I, Kirchner settled in Davos, where he spent most of the rest of his life. Kirchner’s time there served as an 'artistic rebirth' and the artist subsequently focused on the beauty of the surrounding environment and local people, as is evident in Drei Akte im Walde. Depicting three nude figures in a woodland landscape, this work bridges the gap between Kirchner's early bathing scenes, such as Drei Badende, Moritzburg, and his later rediscovery of nature. As Donald Gordon identifies, the curved lines of the oversized bodies and the 'spotlight' effect of intensified colour in this image are visual traits that Kirchner developed from 1928–31. (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, p.148).


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