Alternate Versions or Reductions – Are They Valuable?
One of our readers had this comment relating to Volume 44 in which I discussed multiple originals and their value: “Perhaps the person asking the question was referring to some artists painting additional versions of the same painting that they originally made; such earlier painters as Pittoni, Brueghel, Coecke Van Aelst, etc.” Just to refresh your memory, the original question posed was: “Is the original worth more when there are many reproductions?”
To begin with we need to clarify how the word ‘reproduction’ is commonly used in the art world. Most dealers use it to describe some type of mechanical process that was utilized to copy/replicate/duplicate an original work of art; and often use it in a negative way to describe an item that currently has very little, or ‘decorative’, value.
I know, once again I have used that pesky word ‘decorative’ and many of our readers have asked me to clarify what it means? The word ‘decorative’ is traditionally used two ways in the art world. The first is when discussing a work’s ‘decorative appeal’ – how beautiful or pretty a work is in comparison to others by that specific artist, or other artists from the period. It often follows that the more ‘decorative appeal’ a work has, the more expensive it will be. An easy way to think about this is to imagine your favorite figurative artist painting two works; one features his/her prettiest model seated in a beautiful sunlit garden, the other features his ugliest model seated in a barren wasteland. The first painting is going to have considerably more ‘decorative appeal’ in the market … more people will like the prettier subject, more people will want to own it and in turn a stronger price will be achieved for it.
The second use of the word ‘decorative’ is when an individual is discussing a work’s value: “This work has decorative value”. This is a very polite way of saying that in the opinion of that individual, the work has no ‘real’ monetary value in the art world. Today many of the mass produced reproductions from the 19th century have little more than ‘decorative value’ (most falling well below the $500 level). They make nice decoration, but have little chance of seeing a serious increase in monetary value.
Now let’s get back to the topic at hand. Additional versions, also referred to as alternate versions or reductions, are those original pieces that the artists themselves made of a specific work -- these will be of value. The question here is which of these multiple versions will be the most valuable? Normally, all things being equal, the first should have the most value. However, when it comes to works of art all things are rarely equal. As with any other work, size, quality, condition and period need to be ascertained in order to determine a specific work’s true value. What if the first version of a subject was done at the beginning of an artist’s career, before they perfected their technique, and the alternate version was done many years later, at the height of their career? The later version will be more valuable (monetarily speaking). What if the original version is only 8 x 10 inches and the additional version is 24 x 36 inches? Assuming that both works are in the same condition and both were done during the same period, the larger version will be more valuable (again, monetarily speaking). What if the original version measures 50 x 40 inches and the subsequent version is smaller? Assuming all else is equal then the original version will be more valuable (historically and monetarily). What if both versions are identical in every aspect – size, period, condition, provenance, and quality? In this case, the first version will be more valuable – again, both historically and monetarily.
To better illustrate these thoughts, here are a couple of examples. William A. Bouguereau, the 19th century French artist, painted many ‘reductions’ of his more famous, often exhibited, paintings. Bouguereau frequently exhibited large works at the Paris Salon, many of which were already sold. Other collectors, visiting the Salon, would often want to buy the works shown. Bouguereau, in order to satisfy these collectors, would paint smaller identical versions – called reductions. Typically, in order to clearly differentiate between the versions, the primary work was both signed and dated, while the ‘reduction’ was usually only signed. In this case the original version will be the most valuable (assuming the condition of both works is the same). Another artist from the period – Julien Dupré – never, as far as we know, painted identical versions of the same painting; however he did paint a few ‘alternate’ versions – I am using the word alternate here to describe a work that has the same subject, but the artist made small alterations in the composition so that one could, fairly easily, distinguish one from the other. The most famous of these is his painting Au Pâturage. The original painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882 and purchased by the London dealer Arthur Tooth for 6000ff (now in the collection of the Washington University Art Museum). The work was among the favorites of critics and visitors of the Salon and became widely known through many reproductions. In 1883 the American collector John Wolfe commissioned Dupré to paint another version of the work for which Dupré was paid 12000ff (now in the collection of the University of Kentucky Art Museum). Dupré never titled the second version in his account book and actually noted it as a ‘Reproduction’ of the Salon painting from 1882. While both paintings are exactly the same size and the central theme, a woman holding a cow, are the same, Dupré made slight changes in foreground and background elements so while both paintings ostensibly look the same, they are not identical. If both paintings were to appear on the market at the same time, and if both works were in the same condition, it would be hard to say which one would definitely make more money, but the 1882 version would probably have the edge because it is the ‘original’. To take this even further, we know that Dupré used the central theme of Au Pâturage for other, smaller, works. Because they are not identical versions, each of them will stand on their own merits when they appear on the market.
Is should also be noted that because an artist chooses to repeat a subject matter once, twice, or a number of times during their career, this does not have an serious effect on the value of the original (first) version. The market will judge each work on its own positive and negative qualities at the time it appears on the market and assign an appropriate value to it. As I stated earlier, those versions created at the height of an artist’s career will probably command the most money, even though they might not be the most ‘historically’ valuable.
Just to throw a curve ball into the equation – keep in mind that some artists actually employed other artists to work on their paintings. Again, a great case in point is Bouguereau. At one point in his career he determined that it was financially advantageous for him to hire other artists to paint the major portions of his ‘reductions’. Once finished, he would make any corrections needed and then sign the works. If there were an instance where Bouguereau painted not only the original version, but the first reduction, and then a studio assistant painted a subsequent reduction, the two Bouguereau did himself would be the more valuable.
When looking to purchase a work of art, it is nice to know if it is the only ‘original version’ known, or if there are other ‘alternate versions’ that have, or may, appear on the market. However, this really should not be a major part of the decision making process. What is most important? As I have always said, the specific work’s quality, condition, size, and period.
Sally Swatland – Updates
Sally's painting Noelle has been chosen for inclusion in the American Artists Professional League's 76th Grand National Exhibition. Noelle was recently featured in the Cape Cod Art Association's 2004 New England Exhibition (June 24 - July 19, 2004) where it was awarded Second Prize in Oil. The American Artists Professional League exhibit will be held at the Salmagundi Club (47 Fifth Avenue, New York City) from November 2 - November 12, 2004.
As a reminder, Sally's painting Todd's Point will be featured in the upcoming Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club's 108th Annual Open Juried Exhibition which will be on display at the National Arts Club (15 Gramercy Park South, New York City) from October 8th - October 29, 2004. If you plan on visiting the show, please call the Arts Club for show hours (212) 475-3424.
Gallery Updates: Yes, we are back on our regular hours … Monday through Friday 10am – 5:30pm. The gallery will be participating in the Los Angeles Art Show this month. The exhibition will take place from October 14 – 17 in Santa Monica. I know … the LA Art Show in Santa Monica?
New works by Heidi Coutu, Marie Dieterle, Louis Aston Knight and Sally Swatland have been added to the site this month.
Virtual Exhibitions: We continue to add new artist biographies and photos. This month we have updated those for Louis Marie de Schryver, Cesar Pattien, Jules Alexis Meunier, Adrien Moreau, Edouard Toudouze, and Sally Swatland. We have also added two outstanding works by Louis de Schryver – A Young Man’s Fancy and Après l’averse; - place du Théâtre-Français – along with one by Rosa Bonheur – Couching Lion – to Rehs Galleries: A Visual History:
Knowing that the Sally Swatland exhibitions were getting rather large, we have created a third exhibit titled Intimate Studies of Childhood. This new exhibit will showcase many of Sally’s smaller works:
Next Month: I will try to answer the following related question: assuming that the original artist was not involved; can a copy of a famous artist's painting, executed by another artist, have any value?