Rembrandt to Richter: Highlights from Prints & Multiples

Launch Slideshow

Sotheby's Prints & Multiples sale on 4th April begins with an exceptional collection of Old Master prints, including a very fine first edition of Goya's Tauromaquia. Highlights of the Modern section of the sale include Edvard Munch's haunting Moonlight I and a fine impression of Picasso's Le repas frugal from the collection of Lord & Lady Attenborough. The Contemporary section of the sale comprises a fantastic group of Warhol screenprints including the endangered animals: Giant Panda and African Elephant. These are offered alongside an exciting group of works from momentous post-war printmakers such as Louise Bourgeois and Gerhard Richter. Click through to see highlights from the sale.

Prints & Multiples
4 April | London 

Rembrandt to Richter: Highlights from Prints & Multiples

  • Louis Jean Desprez, La chimère de Monsieur Desprez. Etching, circa 1777–84. Estimate: £15,000–20,000.
    Desprez produced only a small number of prints over the course of his career. Nevertheless, the artist’s graphic productions played a pivotal role in his larger oeuvre, as Rena Hoisington describes: "the medium of etching served both as a vehicle for new subjects and…as a means for Desprez to reinvent himself as an artist." La Chimère, by far the artist’s most desirable printed subject, took Desprez’s process of reinvention to its most intriguing and powerful conclusion. Hoisington contends: "The print may have been inspired by other graphic work — imagery of human and animal musculature and skeletal systems; prints of monsters, demons and witchcraft; 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).

  • Albrecht Dürer, The Large Passion. The complete set of 12 woodcuts, circa 1496–1511, from the Latin text edition of 1511. Estimate: £30,000–50,000.
    The subject of the Passion was very popular in Germany in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The story was also dear to Dürer who produced three printed versions of the Passion and six versions in total.

    Dürer's Large Passion is a vivid and animated rendering of the Gospel story, recognised for its artistic quality and technical mastery, as well its powerful and human treatment of the subject. The twelve woodcuts of The Large Passion did not appear until 1511 when Dürer published the complete cycle, together with a title page and poem by Benedictus Chelidonius. The present lot – a strong, uniform example – comes from this first edition of the subject. Two later editions were published posthumously in 1675 and 1690. 

  • WestImage - Art Digital Studio
    Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, La Tauromaquia. The complete set of 33 etchings with burnished aquatint and lavis, drypoint and engraving, 1816. Estimate: £300,000–500,000.
    La Tauromaquia is among Goya's most celebrated and technically masterful works in any medium, and the present example is among the finest of the early sets from the first edition of the series. The importance of this set is enhanced by its distinguished and uninterrupted provenance. Originally acquired by Anne Adrien de Montmorency Laval (1768-1837), the French ambassador to the Court of Madrid from 1814 to 1823, the works have since descended through the noble Lévis-Mirepoix line. Extraordinarily, the volume in which the Tauromquia is housed has only recently been re-discovered by the current owners; found behind a row of books, in almost pristine condition, in their library at the Montigny castle. 

  • Rembrandt Harmensz. Van Rijn, Self-portrait wearing a Cap: Full Face, Head Only. Etching, circa 1634. Estimate: £10,000–15,000.
    Few artists have depicted themselves as repeatedly and with such psychological insight as Rembrandt. Throughout his career the artist created almost one hundred self-portraits: over forty paintings, thirty-one etchings and about seven drawings. The artist produced these works by looking at himself in the mirror; therefore while his paintings and drawings reverse his actual features, his etchings show him in the orientation in which he appeared to his contemporaries (as the printing process creates a reversed image). Rembrandt is represented in this sale by a remarkable series of nine etched self-portraits (lots 35-43). These fine works, several of which are extremely rare, focus essentially on the successful artist of the 1630s, unlike the more troubled portraits of his older age. The accoutrements of wealth, social position and maturity are evident here in Rembrandt's confident poses, fine costumes and direct gaze. 

  • Pablo Picasso, Le repas frugal. Etching, 1904. Estimate: £60,000–80,000.
    Picasso was only 23 years old, living in Montmartre at the famous Bateau-Lavoir, when Le repas frugal, an undisputed masterpiece, entered the history of printmaking. Despite being the first major print Picasso ever made, it is among his most important and accomplished. It is also the only print linked to the artist’s Blue Period. Carefully composed, the image is eloquent in its simplicity, and yet the variety of etched and drypoint lines and use of a scraper create an astonishing range of tonalities revealing Picasso's natural skill and dexterity in his unfamiliar medium. This impression of Le repas frugal – a particularly fine and clear impression of the subject – comes from the celebrated collection of Lord & Lady Attenborough.

  • Alexej von Jawlensky, Köpfe: 6 Lithographien. The rare complete set, comprising six lithographs heightened with watercolour, 1922. Estimate: £80,000–120,000.
    Complete hand-coloured examples of this portfolio are extremely rare; no other examples have been offered at auction in the last twenty years. Concerning these Köpfe, Jawlensky wrote: "I painted these 'variations' for some years, and then I found it necessary to find form for the face, because I had come to understand that great art can only be painted with religious feeling. And that I could only bring to the human face…They are technically very perfect and radiate great spirituality." (Jawlensky in a letter to Pater Willibrord Verkade, June 12, 1939).

  • Edvard Munch, Moonlight I. Woodcut printed in colours, 1896. Estimate: £130,000–180,000.
    Considering that Moonlight I is one of Munch's earliest woodcuts, it is remarkably sophisticated. Here Munch employed two techniques that were to become central to his ensuing graphic production and which also proved to be hugely influential in the history of printmaking more broadly. To create complex, coloured woodcuts such as this, the artist invented the ‘jigsaw’ technique, whereby he would cut a woodblock into sections to be inked separately with varying hues, before reassembling them to be printed together. Munch also integrated the grain of the woodblock within Moonlight I in a very deliberate and emphatic way, thereby treating his matrix not only as vehicle for expression but as an essential expressive component of the image. 

  • Louise Bourgeois, Ode à ma mère. The complete portfolio, comprising nine drypoints, 1995. Estimate: £15,000–20,000.
    Since its first depiction in a small drawing of 1947, the figure of the spider was to become one of Louise Bourgeois's most important and enduring motifs. In the poem she wrote for Ode à ma mère, Bourgeois characterises the book's arachnid protagonist as a friend and mother: "The friend (the spider – why the spider?) because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and useful as an araignée. She could also defend herself, and me, by refusing to answer 'stupid', inquisitive, embarrassing personal questions. I shall never tire of representing her." (Tate Modern 2000, p.62).


  • Gerard Richter, Eis [Ice]. The book with uniquely painted cardboard cover in elaborate lacquered jacket, 1981. Estimate: £40,000–60,000.
    Each of the Eis book covers was handpainted in coloured lacquers by Richter. These unique illustrations are based on photographs the artist took on a 1972 visit to Greenland – they can therefore be understood as diminutive, and somewhat abstracted, landscapes. Speaking of the roles played by abstraction and landscape within his larger oeuvre Richter explains: "If the Abstract Pictures show my reality, then the landscapes…show my yearning...  Painting is the making of an analogy for something nonvisual and incomprehensible: giving it form and bringing it within reach."

    (Gerhard Richter, 'Notes 1981', The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings 1962-1993, pp. 98-99)

  • Andy Warhol, Giant Panda. Screenprint in colours, 1983. Estimate: £35,000–55,000.
    Giant Panda forms part of a portfolio of ten colour screenprints portraying endangered animals from around the world. Warhol created the Endangered Species portfolio following a conversation he had with Frayda and Ronald Feldman, his New York art dealers, concerning the ecological issue of beach erosion. Warhol had for a long time had an interest in animal welfare and was keen to take on a project intended to raise environmental consciousness.

    The Endangered Species portfolio is also represented in this sale by the African Elephant (lot 208). Like the panda, the elephant is portrayed majestically yet it betrays a poignant resignation to its fate. While the Endangered Species and the intentions behind their creation represent a notable departure from much of Warhol's wider production, they are positioned on the same level of elevation as the artist's illustrious portraits of 20th century luminaries, such as Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor and Mick Jagger (also included in this sale cf. lots 194, 203 and 212). 


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