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10 questions to ask when buying works on paper

An expert introduction to the category — illustrated with standout works from the Stanford Z. Rothschild, Jr. Collection, offered in New York in November

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  • Why drawings?

For collectors, drawings can offer a glimpse into the artist’s creative process. Nearly all artists — whether primarily painters or sculptors — have drawn at some point. In many ways, it’s the most instinctive way to create something: the hand is very gestural, and drawing can be a very immediate way of expressing or exploring an idea. It has a quickness and ease that other media can lack.

Georges Braque (1882-1963), Guitare et journal STAL (recto); Femme à la mandoline (verso), 1913. Gouache, charcoal, coloured wax crayons and pencil on board (recto); charcoal and pencil on board (verso). 11⅜ x 16⅞ in (29 x 42.8 cm). Estimate $900,00-1,200,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Georges Braque (1882-1963), Guitare et journal: STAL (recto); Femme à la mandoline (verso), 1913. Gouache, charcoal, coloured wax crayons and pencil on board (recto); charcoal and pencil on board (verso). 11⅜ x 16⅞ in (29 x 42.8 cm). Estimate: $900,00-1,200,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

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  • Should I collect by period?

Today, collectors have changed the way they buy. They no longer focus on single categories but an instinctive focus on what people like, rather than a sense that as an Impressionist collector, say, you need to have a work by Renoir and Monet.

One of the greatest appeals of drawing is that it unites different periods and cultures. Some of the earliest images men produced, pigment on the wall of a cave, were a form of drawing, and today, Christie’s offers everything from Old Master drawings, right through to Modern and contemporary works on paper.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Bestimmt, executed October 1929. ”Bestimmt” (on the reverse). Watercolour and brush and pen and India ink on paper laid down by the artist on card. 20⅛ x 17¼ in (51.2 x 43.8 cm). Estimate $500,000-800,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Bestimmt, executed October 1929. ”Bestimmt” (on the reverse). Watercolour and brush and pen and India ink on paper laid down by the artist on card. 20⅛ x 17¼ in (51.2 x 43.8 cm). Estimate: $500,000-800,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Stanford Z. Rothschild, Jr, for example, was enthralled with artists and the creative process, and assembled a striking collection of paintings, sculpture, and works on paper by master figures of the art-historical canon. He was especially drawn to artists whose work was both intellectually rigorous and historically provocative, namely El Greco, Claude Monet, Robert Delaunay, Camille Pissarro, and Russian artists of the 20th century.

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  • Are works on paper less expensive?

On average, works on paper do tend to cost less than paintings — though of course drawings cover a wide range of price points. It’s a category that allows you to buy a work by a leading name that might otherwise stretch your budget in another medium. For example, it’s possible to buy a very good Picasso drawing for $70,000, whereas you really can’t get a very good Picasso painting for that amount.

Robert Michel (1897-1983), Kurbelwellen Kinematogramm, executed in 1922-1923. Watercolour, pen and brush and black ink on cut paper laid down by the artist on paper. 13½ x 16⅛ in (34.6 x 41.5 cm). Estimate $10,000-15,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Robert Michel (1897-1983), Kurbelwellen Kinematogramm, executed in 1922-1923. Watercolour, pen and brush and black ink on cut paper laid down by the artist on paper. 13½ x 16⅛ in (34.6 x 41.5 cm). Estimate: $10,000-15,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

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  • Are works on paper an investment?

The resale value of drawings is driven by the same factors that affect paintings and sculpture. Elements such as quality, rarity and provenance all matter, and if a particular drawing has all of these factors, it’s likely to increase in value as the market goes up. The advantage drawings as a market has is the broadness of the collecting community — with so many collectors out there, the chances are higher that the market will keep rising.

Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), Paddock et turfistes à Ascot, 1935. Gouache and watercolour over pencil on paper laid down on board. 19⅞ x 26⅛ in (50.4 x 66.1 cm). Estimate $150,000-150,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), Paddock et turfistes à Ascot, 1935. Gouache and watercolour over pencil on paper laid down on board. 19⅞ x 26⅛ in (50.4 x 66.1 cm). Estimate: $150,000-150,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

In recounting her father’s progressive mentality towards investing and collecting, Stanford Rothschild, Jr’s daughter, Ellen Rothschild Dame, recalls him ‘pouring over the book Art as Investment in the late 1960s, which acted as a catalyst for some of his earliest purchases. As he developed his understanding of art as an asset, his passion for learning about the origin and historical significance of the work itself blossomed.’ 

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  • Who’s buying works on paper?

Works on paper attract an incredibly broad variety of collectors — and the sense of inclusivity is something that makes it all the more appealing. As the value threshold tends to be lower, the field presents a good entry point for new collectors. You might never have the millions of dollars you’d need to buy a bronze Petite Danseuse by Degas, but you can get a fantastic work on paper for $20,000 that might be a highlight in your collection.

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  • What about institutions?

Major museums and galleries are hosting exhibitions that reiterate the idea that drawings are not just preparatory or secondary works, but pieces that are key to an artist’s practice. Major prizes and fairs, such Paris’s Salon du Dessin which features the Prix de Dessin de La Fondation d’Art Contemporain Daniel et Florence Guerlain, show that it’s still very much a category that’s supported by institutions and critics.

Paul Klee (1879-1940), Unerfülltes, 1930. Watercolour and pen and black ink on linen laid down on painted card. Image size 16 x 18¾ in (40.6 x 47.6 cm). Mount size 19⅝ x 25⅝ in (50 x 65.1 cm). Estimate $600,000-900,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York
Paul Klee (1879-1940), Unerfülltes, 1930. Watercolour and pen and black ink on linen laid down on painted card. Image size: 16 x 18¾ in (40.6 x 47.6 cm). Mount size: 19⅝ x 25⅝ in (50 x 65.1 cm). Estimate: $600,000-900,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York
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  • Are any artists particularly known for their works on paper?

Though nearly every artist has drawn, or has some element of drawing in their work, the practice has certainly been more central to the work of some artists than others. In Impressionist & Modern Art, we immediately think of Picasso, who produced somewhere around 40,000 works on paper over the course of his career — from graphic works to unique drawings.

There are other artists who we might not immediately associate with drawing, but rather think of as sculptors or painters. Giacometti, for example, is often considered as primarily a sculptor, but drawing was very important to him. In an interview with Jacques Dupin, the artist said, ‘I draw to better see what I see’. Even when he created a work in sculpture, he would come back to it later in his drawings in order to add to his creative process.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Hoofd van een visser, driekwart naar rechts gekeerd, drawn in The Hague in January-February 1883. Pencil and black lithographic crayon on paper. 17⅜ x11 in (44 x 27.5 cm). Estimate $500,000-700,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Hoofd van een visser, driekwart naar rechts gekeerd, drawn in The Hague in January-February 1883. Pencil and black lithographic crayon on paper. 17⅜ x11 in (44 x 27.5 cm). Estimate: $500,000-700,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

The drawing above is a fine example of the role drawing played in artists developing their ideas. In November 1882, Vincent van Gogh had begun to experiment with lithography. He used his drawings of old men as a basis, and planned to execute a series of prints that would be affordable and attractive to working-class people. The scheme never went beyond an early experimental stage, however in the process he was introduced to materials commonly used in printmaking, including the lithographic crayon. With this medium, Van Gogh could achieve an elevated sense of expression in his drawings, a phenomenon he described as ‘painting in black’.

In his desire to paint in black, Van Gogh was drawn to the potential of oily, deep-black lithographic crayons, even though these were not ordinarily used for drawing as they did not permit any corrections. When working with the lithographic crayon on a stone, marks could be removed with a scraper, but this was not possible with paper as it would be damaged by scraping off the crayon. Van Gogh adopted a solution whereby he began with a comprehensive drawing in carpenter’s pencil, and then added the dark areas in lithographic crayon on top. If the lithographic crayon needed to be scratched off, it would reveal the lighter pencil underneath, rather than harming the paper.

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  • Is drawing a purely Western tradition?

No. There’s a strong tradition of works on paper in Eastern art, rooted in the development of paper in China, and in the arts of painting and calligraphy across Asia. Indeed, many Western artists were influenced by Eastern art when it came to their own works on paper. We recently sold a work by Miró inspired by the artist’s trips to Japan, and his discovery of calligraphy. 

In France, Japanese printmaking had a strong influence on Les Nabis — a group of Post-Impressionist avant-garde artists active in the 1890s. Its impact is clearly seen in works by one of the group’s key members, Édouard Vuillard, whose bold compositions, skewed perspective, and use of negative space are typical in Japanese print tradition. 

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Baigneur, circa 1890. Watercolour on paper 8⅝ x 6⅝ in (21.9 x 17 cm). Estimate $150,000-250,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Baigneur, circa 1890. Watercolour on paper 8⅝ x 6⅝ in (21.9 x 17 cm). Estimate: $150,000-250,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Danse maori. Watercolour and pencil on paper 12¼ x 8 in (31.1 x 20.5 cm). Estimate $30,000-50,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Danse maori. Watercolour and pencil on paper 12¼ x 8 in (31.1 x 20.5 cm). Estimate: $30,000-50,000. This work is offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York

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  • How should I care for works on paper?

This is a question that has always been central to this market. By its nature, paper is fragile, and, up until fairly recently, this was a factor that made some collectors nervous — particularly those who lived in countries with high humidity or prone to extreme changes in temperature, which could impact the material in drawings.  

Today, significant advances in conservation have removed many concerns collectors might have once had. Most framers now know to use archival material in their work. For collectors, conserving a work can be as simple as making sure that their frame has the right type of glass in it. If a work is not under protective glass, however, it’s a good idea to avoid direct exposure to very strong sunlight, or hanging works above hot radiators, for example.

 

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  • What do I do if I find a work with no signature?

It’s not unusual to find a drawing without a signature. As specialists, we can often identify the hand of the artist — and we will never put a work in one our catalogues unless we have confirmed its authenticity with the recognised authority, which is always external to Christie’s.

When you buy a Matisse from Christie’s, you know the Matisse expert has confirmed its authenticity. And of course, it’s always fun when we get a work that might be a Matisse, but has never previously been recorded — again, in this instance, we go to the Matisse expert to have its identity confirmed.