How does one start collecting ‘original’ art? By understanding the term original.

Whoever first coined the term ‘original’ as a general description of art, has a lot to pay for. It is the wrong word used for an important subject; I can’t stress this enough, at a minimum it causes confusion, and at its worse, complete breakdown in trust.

So, how is the term ‘original’ so misused? Well, I’m going be that twat who suggests we start with a straight forward ‘google’:

adjective: original

  1. present or existing from the beginning; first or earliest."the original owner of the house

  1. created personally by a particular artist, writer, musician, etc.; not a copy."original Rembrandts"

The second example used by google is art related so we’re focussing on that ONLY. The description of ‘original’, as far as art goes, starts and stops with the second definition of the word.

In collecting terms try looking at ‘original’ as pertaining to where the artwork came from rather than being in some way the ‘first’ or ‘only’.

In a very simplified way if prints are not of interest. Discard the word ‘original’ and instead look for words such as painting, water colour, unique and one of a kind. If you’re not sure what you’re looking at, Painting or Print, ask about the medium. Ideally, you want to hear terms such as: ‘Painting’, ’One of a kind’, ‘Unique’, followed by words like ‘oil’, ‘acrylic’, ‘water colour’, ‘drawing’ etc. These are mediums where you can be assured that no matter how many times an artist paints the same subject (mountains, people, fruit, abstract or even abstract mountainous people shaped fruit), no two times can be exactly the same. Each brush stroke, blending of colours on the pallet etc is a ‘unique’ and cannot be 100% fully replicated. So, within the body of work of an artist or movement, if you want to collect what’s the top that typically means paintings.

A good example of this is Rothko, the abstract expressionist, who painted, quite literally, a lifetime's worth of rectangles. Regardless of how often he may have repeated a pink yellow and teal recatangles on orange backgrounds, no two could ever have been the same.

If that’s where you step off the train congratulations. You collect at the top level!

That establishes ‘original’ art has nothing to do with being paintings or prints. It can be, and frequently, is… both.

‘Original prints’ is where the real confusion starts for many.

So again, to trusty Google:

“An original print is a copy of an artwork that is made from the master image of that art piece. The master image is often carved into a durable material, such as stone, which is then used to produce a limited run of original prints.”

Our advise at Rato society is to insist on a few things: 1: Certificate of authenticity 2: Ideally Hand Signed signature, Plate signed at a minimum 3: Numbered* 4: From a limited edition.

*I always find it funny how demanding people can be about having earlier numbers. Please note this has absolutely no bearing on diddly when it comes to market value. It just doesn’t mean anything other than that’s the order it was signed. Nothing more or unless some phenomenal story accompanies the order of numbers - i.e. a well documented loss of limb or life changing phonemail between numbers 74 and 75 of 100.

I’ll be categoric right now and say that print making is itself a technique that requires painstaking work, sometimes by orders of magnitude that would humble doubters. A lithograph can mean many hundreds of hours of work, serigraphs can be just as daunting, and as for etchings, well, it’s called ‘The Master’s Medium’ for a purpose. A good ‘print’ will humble a mediocre painting, often when by the same artist.

Historical note: Many artists have favoured, for a myriad of reasons, prints over paintings:

Pablo Picasso La femme qui pleure, I.

Drypoint, aquatint, etching and scraper, on laid Montval wove paper — a very fine impression of the the seventh (final) state. Executed in 1937, this work is number three from an edition of 15. Sheet size: 30¼ x 22¼ in (767 x 565 mm).

Sold for $5,122,500 on 1 November 2011 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork: © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2019

Henri Matisse

Year 1959. Linocut. Edition 1500

Rembrandt van Rijn

Self-Portrait Drawing at a Window, 1648. Etching, drypoint, and burin. The Sylmaris Collection, Gift of George Coe Graves, 1920 (20.46.12)

In this iconic image, Rembrandt presented himself, at the age of forty-two, not as an ideal but in a matter-of-fact way, as an artist at work, interrupted with etching needle or pen in hand.

Paul Gaugain: Nave nave fenua (Delightful Land)

From the suite Noa Noa (Fragrant Scent). 1893-94. Woodcut, comp. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Rosenwald Collection

Salvador Dalí: “Falsifiers” (Les falsifcateurs; 1951-64).

From “Divine Comedy—Inferno 29”.


Banksy Trolleys (Colour)

Signed, 2007, Screen print on paper, Edition of 750

Some artists are smart enough to hardly sell their uniques at all. A great example is an artist choosing to only release artwork through prints.

Thomas Kinkade

Thomas Kinkade built an art empire (love or loath it) on that very premise. His estate still owning the vast majority of his output in its most coveted medium - oil on canvas.

The Garden of Hope – Limited Edition Canvas

I am a huge print media fan. Paintings are the pinnacle of collecting, of course they are, but there’s something about the organic way that a print can become iconic, or culturally relevant.

There’s also a much larger community of owners and collectors for prints then there are for paintings by any ratio you care to apply. I have seen the value of prints shoot up by 100s% in just a few hours following launch. In fact there are edition that sell out so quickly, you would think Freddy Mercury has been resurrected for a one night only Queen extravaganza. If you need any proof check out https://expressobeans.com for a trip down the rabbit hole of just how strong the print market is.

I’ll be coming back to mediums in the future, in particular how various mediums are created - a little history behind them and who some of the incredible artists that especially enjoyed producing them.

At Rato Society we work with both unique and limited edition prints. Meaning every artwork is original with certificates of authenticity and perhaps more importantly, at curated primary market prices.

If you enjoyed this post, I would be very grateful if you’d help it spread, by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Linkedin or Facebook

Fabrizio Harper, Co-Founder, Rato Society

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