Friday, July 2, 2010

What makes a good investment art piece?

As a beginning collector, you may find yourself wondering HOW you can determine whether the work you are interested in is a good investment. Multiple criteria will determine this important choice for you


As I previously established in an earlier post, for investment purposes it is wise to collect an established artist (see Who Should We Collect).

Artistic and Historical Significance

This criterion includes originality and creativity. When you are considering a work, ask yourself:

-Is the print an exceptional example of the artist’s work?

-Is it one of the artist’s signature styles?

-Is it one of the pinnacles of the artist's achievement in that style or with respect to his/her output in general?

-How does it relate to other works within that artist’s oeuvre?

-Does it relate to other artworks by other contemporaries of that artist and seem to be "of the moment"?

-Has the print been widely exhibited?

-Is it included in important books and catalogues about the artist?

A good example of historical significance is this Pablo Picasso “Le Repas Frugal”. This etching was created early in Picasso’s career, and marks a pivotal moment between Picasso’s Blue and Rose periods.


This is where the aesthetics come into play, and determines the demand for a print. There are multiple sub-criteria in this category, including expressiveness, emotional power, humor, complexity or creative economy of line.

There are also Technical considerations to take into account:

-How was the print produced?
-Does it display superior craftsmanship or technical excellence?

You may also hear a print be described as a “strong impression,” this literally means that the impression left on the paper was a “good pull” or a good press of the image.


This is especially pertinent to a print. Works on paper are delicate and can easily be damaged by mishandling, poor framing, exposure to strong light and of course the passage of time. But paper is much more resistant than we would imagine. When you look at a Rembrandt etching which is 400 years old and still in very good condition, you can realize that well preserved print can last for almost ever. Of course, the prints in good condition are more sought after by collectors and therefore their prices are higher.

Badly Damaged Etching, Artist Unknown

It is always important to determine the whole condition of a print including margins (full or not), stains, fading, etc..

A frame can be beautiful but can hide defects which can make the print of a much lesser value than the marked price.


The international art market decides the price of a print, based on the principle of supply and demand. Original prints may exist in multiples, but they are still extremely limited. Considering an edition of 50 spread in the whole world you can easily do the math! If a certain print is in demand and the supply is no longer there, the price will go up. The rarity of a piece usually makes it more desirable and more valuable.

You should ask yourself:

-How large is the edition?
-Are there any variations within the edition?
-Has this artist produced many prints or very few?

I am often asked if the number of the edition also determines the value, and the answer is no, with a few exceptions. To the art market the number values are all the same so number 11/200 is the same as 199/200. Some people can value lower numbers, and or special numbers but this not relevant. Other exceptions are the proofs and special editions aside from the regular edition. These can be more valuable, because they can be seen as special.


Plate Signed

A signature by hand is important because we always prefer to see the direct intervention of the artist on an original print, although that does not mean that a print MUST be signed to be original. Some print editions are unsigned and still very expensive, a good example of this is Renoir's Enfant Au Biscuit, which was never signed but is still considered extremely valuable.

Hand Signed

Sometimes the signature is in the plate or stone. Sometimes the print is estate signed or estate stamped, meaning it bares the stamp of the Warhol Estate as an example. When researching a print it is very good to consult the catalogue raisonné for that artist, as it will help you determine how the specific edition was signed, if ever.


The provenance is the history of ownership. If a piece was owned by a prestigious collector or famous individual it might be viewed as more valuable. But this is rather true for unique works whose traceability is much easier. Usually the provenance of most prints in the market is unknown and this does not affect their value.