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AROUND HOME : Old Prints

November 05, 1989|SAM BURCHELL

INTAGLIO PRINTS BY talented artists in every era and from every country represent some of the most striking and most sophisticated artworks known. The techniques involved are legion: among them, engravings, dry points, etchings, aquatints, mezzotints and woodcuts. Consider some of the renowned artists of the past who have mastered these forms: Durer, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Hogarth, Rowlandson, Piranesi, Goya, William Blake, Delacroix, Honre Daumier--the list is endless.

Over the years, a sometimes negative meaning has been associated with the word print. For many, it does not suggest a work of art. To be sure, prints are not one of a kind, and many copies can be made from plates, woodblocks and stones. Each impression, however, is unique, for in each case the artist must choose the paper, the method of inking the plate and the pressure exerted. Even temperature and humidity will conspire to create a truly original work of art.

The earliest prints produced in any quantity were playing cards and small prints, religious in nature, bearing images of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints. Many of the first intaglio artists were goldsmiths and armorers accustomed to etching designs on armor. Apart from their aesthetic and decorative value, prints have always been a convenient way for historians to re-create the life of any given era. Take, for example, the satires of William Hogarth and Thomas Rowlandson in England, or Daumier's bitter political portraits of the France of his day, or the appealing visions of American life found in the Currier & Ivesprints of the 19th Century. Indeed, Currier & Ives sent artists to report on events of the day--fires, sports events, battles--and to make portraits of statesmen, entertainers and pretty girls.

Prints are almost always undervalued. Even today, Daumier lithographs can often be found for between $30 and $500, although color prints by artists such as Mary Cassatt have brought as much as $200,000.

Look for antique prints at Gideon Gallery Ltd., Heritage Book Shop, Earl's of Brentwood, and Marilyn Pink Fine Arts Ltd. in Los Angeles; Amphora Arts & Antiques and Classic Artforms in Beverly Hills; Krown & Spellman, Booksellers, in Santa Monica; Dirk Cable, Bookseller, in Pasadena; Snooty Fox and The Antique Alley in Ventura, and House of Heirlooms in San Diego.

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