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Mauricio Lasansky:  The Art

What is an Original Print?


In recent years there have appeared reproductions made by photo-mechnical and other processes, primarily published in France, which may seem to the uninformed to be original prints. They may be good reproductions but they are not original prints and they do not convey the aesthetic qualities of the original. To a degree they betray the original and coarsen its effect.

The difference in the price commanded by an original print and a reproduction acknowledged as such is largely a reflection of the difference in their aesthetic qualities. No one would wish to pay for an original only to discover that he has acquired a reproduction which is worth far less.

In several instances, the French reproductions referred to above, and others, have been signed and numbered in pencil by the artist and have been offered for sale for $250 or more. In other cases a so-called "original" print, for example, a color lithograph, has been made by a craftsman who copied and adapted a watercolor, drawing or oil painting by a well-known artist. Usually the craftsman's name does not appear and the artist has signed and numbered the limited edition of the print. Obviously the print is not an original print by the artist. Another more elementary instance of a trap for the unwary is the photographic reproduction of an orignal porint such as a Toulouse-Lautrec poster.

Many prints appear which are technically original but which are offered for sale at prices far in excess of their value because they appear to be part of a limited edition which was, in fact, not limited. Lithographs by Miro and Chagall were published in the French magazine Verve in an edition of thousands, and there were also printed from the same stone "limited" editions of one hundred, numbered and signed. These numbered prints sell for much more than they would if everyone knew that the edition was really unlimited.

In an extreme case, a London gallery has cut color lithographs by Chagall out of Verve and has stamped on them a signature of Chagall and a false indication that the edition was limited to two hundred.

One of the theoretical advantages of a limited edition, aside from its rarity, is that the prints are likely to be of finer quality because they were printed before the plate or wood block became worn. If a prior edition was printed, obviously a misrepresentation has been made with respect to quality.

Another practice of which one should be aware is that of adding an artist's signature long after publication. Prints originally unsigned, either because they did not meet the approval of the artist or because they appeared in a book, magazine, or other unlimited edition, often turn up with the added signature of the artist, either genuine or false.

Some of these practices are fraudulent. If a false representation is knowingly made to you with the intention that it be relied on anbd if, under all the circumstances, it is reasonable to rely on it and you do rely on it, to your damage, you have been defrauded. If you can prove your case (often an expensive and difficult job, particularly when the false statements are not in writing) you can rescind (get your money back) or sue for damages.

Reproductions are dutiable while original prints are duty-free. If a custom declaration states that a print is a reproduction, the importer and anyone charged with his knowledge would be committing fraud if he sold it as an original print. The text of the pertinent provisions of the Tariff Act and Regulation is reproduced on page 30. [omitted]

A buyer might reasonably request a dealer to state on the invoice that the print purchased is an original print. Refusal on the part of the dealer to do so would at least warn the buyer that the dealer was not prepared to guarantee its authenticity.

The best protection is education. Exposure to prints not only increases one's connoisseurship and enjoyment of prints but is a pleasurable occupation in itself. Often, however, even the experienced collector cannot rely entirely on his own judgment. Very few have the inclination, time, or ability to become experts. Those who are not can best protect their interests by consulting reliable dealers or obtaining the guidance of museum curators. Buy prints only from those whom you know to be honorable and well informed. You should be able to obtain a written representation from the dealer describing the print in detail. The extent to which a dealer follows the recommendations of the Print Council (outlined in the next section), is a good index of his reliability.

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Used with permission.

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