A Picasso for $14?

Check out the ABC News story for which yours truly was interviewed, “A Picasso for $14? Ohio Man Buys Print in Thrift Store”. Well, I guess I’m just not satisfied with 15 seconds of fame–I’d like to catapult to 20! So here’s what the kind journalist edited out of my comments. Despite all the problems with the poster, and particularly with the signature, that she quoted in that story, the journalist made it sound like I had concluded the signature was fake and maybe even the linocut. Actuallly, all in all, I imagine that the print is real, the red signature was distorted photographically to give it a pinkish hue, and it is just an unusually unevenly faded but authentic signature. And, since she didn’t mention the proviso, then I will restate that of course these observations are based on a review of digital images, which is not the same as examining the art in the flesh.

Plus, someone inexplicably cropped the majority of the signature illustrated in the story. Here’s a close-up of the whole autograph:

Everyone seems to be panning the quality of this artwork and urging its new owner, Zachary Bodish, to sell it. He, on the other hand, has been getting attached to it. (Sound familiar?) Well, though I wouldn’t buy this poster, there are some nice things one can say about it. For example, there is its amusing feature of the small annular marks in the corners and in the middle of the edges.  Picasso, up to his usual visual jokes, intends these marks to represent the nails used to affix this poster ad to the wall. In all his tens of thousands of artworks, there are only two other occasions of which I’m aware in which he depicted such faux-nails, both linocut posters advertising two other Vallauris ceramic exhibits of his the preceding year. Not that a single nail ever touched this hallowed poster board–even such lowly posters as this, yet signed and numbered, were more likely distributed in Paris by his dealer Kahnweiler.  

See you at Salvation Army! -Kobi


I’ve belatedly considered that it might be useful to indicate here when I’ve updated any of the Collecting Guides.  Well, perhaps you might like to know that  I’ve just expanded the discussion on the fading of prints, which you could find in the “Collecting Pitfalls” chapter of The Guide to Collecting Picasso’s Prints, just a little ways down from the top….


There are those collectors who love the art no matter how small, and there are those who won’t look at a piece if it doesn’t reach a certain size.  This “column” is for the former.  Having addressed the merits of collecting small art works before, I would now like to further the discussion by drawing your attention to two highlights of this spring auction season.  They demonstrate both the highs and lows of collecting miniature Picassos.  Well, just the current high, not the real highs—some of those were most recently sold a couple of years ago (see Does Size Matter?).

First the low: the 1919 gouache and pencil, Nature morte à la guitare that went for a giveaway 60,000 Euro hammer price, or around $90,000 US all told:


This is one of many still lifes that Picasso created around this time, most of them smallish works on paper generally depicting a guitar on a table in front of a window, a view out the window of his Parisian apartment.  The most famous of these works on paper is in the Berggruen Museum.  We, too, have a beautiful one (Le Guéridon, 1920), in which the window is shown at its most abstract.  OK, the one at hand does not compare to either Berggruen’s or ours or to a number of other absolutely great ones in the Musée Picasso, either in terms of beauty, layers of meaning, humor, or size (this one is 12.7 cm or 5” in height).  But it is nonetheless a wonderful and amusing work in its own right.  At first it may appear deceptively simple.  But note how the blue sky cleverly becomes the table’s front legs and also the bottom half of the guitar, how the bottom of the curtains doubles as the back legs of the table, and how the head of the guitar is really an extension of the tabletop.  Interestingly, a cardboard and paper sculpture that was included in the monumental “Cubist Picasso” show at the Musée Picasso in 2007 is clearly related to the work at hand, though even smaller:

It’s apparently impossible to know whether the chicken came first or the egg, but each is a tour-de-force in different ways.  The humor of the legs of sky and curtain in the gouache does not translate into the three-dimensional work.  But the negative space of the body of the guitar is a pretty good joke in the sculpture, which is lost in the painting.  And, as if the void between the blue margins of the guitar were not enough, the guitar’s soundhole is an actual hole in the tabletop itself!  So each medium has its own advantages in best conveying the jester’s wit….

Here’s the high, Femme au ballon (Woman with a Balloon, 1929):


Ten years later, we find Picasso wading among his surrealist bathers in the South of France.  Although most of them are pencil drawings, almost all of which are in the collection of the Musée Picasso, there are a few large blockbuster museum paintings, notably the man-eater at the MOMA, Baigneuse assise au bord de la mer from the following year:


Because they’re almost all in museums, large or small, paper or oil, it is amazing to find any such work for sale, much less an oil.  So what if it’s small (21.4 x 11.5 cm, 8 3/8 x 4 ½”)—it’s nonetheless a fantastic piece.  Last week it fetched $649,700 all in, a respectable price in any market I should think, not just for this shaky one.   Or perhaps it’s not really shaky anymore.  We’ll see….

Before I sign off, here’s something strictly for your amusement—hopefully not your derision—a collage I made to console myself when I didn’t manage to bring the above gouache home:


Window Treatment

I am home having film applied to the windows. I ended up getting a newer type that is made by 3M. It is more expensive but has no metal in it to interfere with cell and all other wireless stuff…. a problem in our apartment building. It is also slightly brighter but filters all the bad stuff just as well. -Heidi M.

Artist’s Proofs

Question: Can you tell me something about the fact that [the print in which I'm interested] is one of the artist’s proofs? Does that mean that because it isn’t numbered it is of less value than the rest of the edition? -Judith C.

Response: Most of Picasso’s prints were released in editions of 50, with a small number (usually 5 to 20) artist’s proofs. An edition of 50 would be numbered 1/50 to 50/50 by a hand other than Picasso’s. Whereas the artist’s proofs bore no numbers, they were usually inscribed with the words “epreuve d’artiste”, also by another hand.

There are certainly no hard and fast rules about the relative value of artist’s proofs. Some dealers will accord a 10% premium to numbered prints because of their customers’ preferences. I’ve, however, met many dealers and collectors who don’t assign any differential valuation to numbered and unnumbered prints.

Some dealers will tell you that artist’s proofs are more valuable because those are the ones the artist kept for himself, and the artist could be expected to have kept the best for himself. Others will tell you that Picasso handled and scrutinized his proofs more than the numbered edition. Apart from the claim that the artist’s proofs are therefore more valuable, which they’re not, at least on theoretical grounds, these dealers’ contentions may be true, but they don’t add up to much. The exception to the rule is the singular case in each edition of the “bon à tirer” print, in which that “ready to print” designation is in fact inscribed by the artist’s own hand and lends significant added value to the print.

As a practical matter, however, artist’s proofs are usually more desirable than the typical numbered print because they’re in better condition. Having been kept by Picasso throughout his life and then often much longer by his estate, or having been kept by the printers or publishers, the artist’s proofs were much more likely to have escaped the ravages of the elements and of non-archival matting and glazing, and are thus likely to be in much better shape than the numbered proofs. Many have spent their lives in the dark, as underprivileged as a veal, and have only just seen the light of day. Therefore, at least prior to inspection, my preference always leans toward an artist’s proof.

A corollary question to that posed by the reader is the relative value of differently numbered proofs, i.e., is number 1 better than number 50? You might think that the impression of the print numbered 1 might be better than the last one numbered. It however isn’t, for a couple of reasons. First, the vast majority of Picasso’s intaglio prints were steel-faced (a process in which the relatively soft copper plate is hardened by plating it with steel). As such, one would expect no differences in the quality of the first and last impression in an edition of fifty or even, in the case of the Vollard Suite, an edition of, say, 325. Secondly, as my friend and fellow art dealer, Emanuel Silberstein, himself a former printer, has pointed out, since the prints are stacked as they exit the printing press, the last one printed is, if anything, more likely to be the first one numbered.