Friday, 21 March 2014

The two kinds of limited edition prints

In this article we’ll discuss where the real value long term actually lies in buying new prints that are sold as “limited edition”.

It's exciting that the monetary value of vintage posters, antique prints and editions by twentieth century NZ printmakers is being increasingly recognised by the wider art market.  When rare NZ prints are being sold for tens of thousands of dollars those of us who bristle at hearing the phrase “it’s just a print” allow ourselves a tingle of satisfaction at collecting an artistic medium that had managed to remain wonderfully under-rated (ie cheap) for so long… 

Essentially the fact a print is advertised as being a "limited edition" is not necessarily an indication of its long term value because limited edition prints come in two sorts.

1. The first kind of limited edition print is a reproduction of another artwork.

2. The second kind of limited edition print is a multiple original where the print is the end result of an artistic process, there is no other “original” artwork.

Limited edition reproduction of a painting by Brian Dahlberg
A limited edition reproduction can be a copy of an antique print (for instance the series of early prints of NZ published by Avon Fine Prints in the 1960s and 1970s) or a copy of a painting (for example this image from a collection of prints by contemporary Auckland painter Brian Dahlberg).   A reproduction print can be printed offset (photolithography) or digitally (inkjet or giclee) but all are copies of another artwork.

[This writer is well aware that calling the first sort of limited editions “prints” at all is controversial (some in the industry say they should only every be called “reproductions” rather than "prints") - you can read about this debate in a previous article "Artists prints or reproduction prints, spotting the difference in the age of digital printing"].

Reproduction prints can be of astonishingly fine quality today, often printed on canvas and even in three dimensions including the frame - see the video demonstrating Canon's version of this latest technology that has not yet arrived in New Zealand...

 The price a print buyer pays is often higher for a  digital print which unless outrageously excessive  can usually be justified by the higher costs  involved compared to printing offset and the fact  the buyer is receiving a superior quality print in  return. Although the capital costs of owning  digital printers have fallen dramatically  especially given the recent strength of the NZ  dollar there will never be the same economies of  scale that you had with photolithography when  you are printing in very short runs.

 However in our view the high prices that were asked for reproduction prints printed using digital technology when the giclee revolution arrived in NZ a decade ago has led to confusion about the value of giclee reproduction prints today.

This period saw giclee reproduction prints of scenic NZ oil paintings being marketed at over a thousand dollars each, this pushed them up to the same pricepoint as editions from printmakers but in most cases without making the artists a lot of money because the cost structure to get them to market was so high.  But critically this higher cost structure created an lingering expectation that because a higher price was paid for the print it would have to have some kind of long term value, an expectation that a print buyer must be purchasing something with a value that would endure beyond the decorative appeal of the print.

This initial high pricing was the result of the following combination of factors.  The small size of the NZ market, the high cost of materials (inks and substrates), the fact there is no reduction in unit cost for multiple prints being printed at once (not economies of scale unlike photolithography), small numbers of prints being printed at once meant artists were effectively paying retail prices for their printing requirements and the fact that giclee prints were marked up galleries and other retailers by the same amount as offset reproduction prints rather than the smaller margin on what had been the previously more expensive prints, the original editions.

However the price you pay for a print is not always a good indication of its long term value.

We think that a limited edition reproduction print offers extra value for the print buyer if it is signed and numbered by the artist because there is value in knowing that your new artwork is not going to be seen everywhere (scarcity as well as decorative value).  There is also a value in the actual signature of the artist - after all people buy autographs by themselves. The most valuable reproduction print in New Zealand are the signed versions of the 1920s era print of C.F. Goldie's "A Good Joke", valuing his signature at around $1000.  For a contemporary NZ artist like Dick Frizzell his signature being added to an artwork is probably worth around $100, for example on the exhibition poster for the Blockbusters show we have for sale at the moment.

However for serious collectors a reproduction of another artwork is not going to hold its value as well as an original work of art - or in the case of prints, a multiple original.

"Scarcity and decorative value are weak factors in the secondary market when compared to an artwork with intrinsic skill and creativity that also has that magical resonance with art buyers that endures across more than one generation."

We try and make sure that in our marketing of a reproduction print that we stress the value to the buyer in the amazing quality, colour fidelity, large size and longevity of the inks offered in a modern print rather than a mysterious "collectable value".  Print buyers of previous decades would have happily paid more for a print that won't fade for decades and looks just like the original painting, but even at a higher price these are still reproduction prints, not original editions, even if both categories of prints can truthfully be called "limited editions".

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Early Prints of Maori Life : John Gilfillan's remarkable "Interior of a Native Village"

Part of an occasional series of articles on prints from our collection.  This week we look at the tragic life of the artist John Gilfillan whose depiction of a pa on the Wanganui River "Interior of a Native Village" is both a remarkable portrait of Maori life in the early days of colonisation and one of NZ's rarest prints.

About the artist

John Alexander Gilfillan, the son of a Captain of the 78th Highland Regiment, was born in 1793. He ran away to sea at an early age, but later retired from the navy to study art.  Gilfillan's qualifications gained him the position of Drawing and Painting Master at the Andersonian University, a position which he held for fifteen years. In 1826 he married Miss Sarah Murray, by whom he had four children. She died in 1837, and shortly afterwards he married his cousin, Mary Bridges, and moved with his family to London, where he spent three months studying carpentry and engineering in preparation for emigrating to New Zealand.

Gilfillan's Farm at Mataraua
The family arrived in New Zealand on Christmas Day 1841 (Gilfillan's 47th birthday) and went immediately to Petre (Wanganui). They took up land at Matarawa (Mataraua), and built a house on their town section, living there till 1845 when they moved finally to the farm. This house was illustrated from a sketch by Gilfillan in W. Tyrone Power's Sketches in New Zealand.

The murder of Gilfillan's wife and three of his children on 18th April 1847 caused him to abandon his farm, and at the end of the year he moved with his remaining children to Sydney. During the fifteen months he lived there he painted the Interior of a Native Village. The Pa is reputed to be Putiki-whara-nui on the Wanganui River.

Gilfillan moved to Adelaide in 1849, but in 1852 was tempted to the goldfields, and afterwards went to Melbourne. He exhibited paintings at the 1854 Exhibition, and died in Melbourne in 1863.

Printing of the Lithograph

Interior of a Native Village (Lithograph)
The authors of Early Prints of New Zealand were indebted to L.A.L. Moore, Esq., of Wellington for the following account of the circumstances surrounding the printing of the lithograph of Interior of a Native Village.

Mr Moore's grandfather, Captain Frederick George Moore, was in the merchant marine, and arrived in Wellington in February 1840 aboard the Bengal Merchant. He purchased the brigantine Jewess and began trading round the New Zealand coast. He acted as pilot for Wakefield's ships the Will Watch, Whitby, and Arrow when they sailed into Nelson Haven to establish the second New Zealand Company settlement, and himself settled on property at Motueka and in Nelson.

Moore probably first met Gilfillan in Wanganui during a trading visit, but met him again in Sydney in 1848 when he (Moore) was on a return trip to England. Gilfillan gave the painting of Interior of a Native Village to Moore, who took it to London, and on arrival arranged an interview with Prince Albert to see if the painting could be displayed at the Royal art gallery. The picture was inspected by both Prince Albert and the Duke of Wellington, and it was decided that it should be shown at the 1851 Exhibition at the Crystal Palace.

Captain Moore was in charge of the New Zealand Court at the Exhibition, and the picture was among the items included. Moore had 50 copies lithographed, sending 25 to Sir George Grey for distribution, and selling and presenting the remainder to friends and associates in London. After the Exhibition, Moore gave the original painting to his sister in Paris: all trace has been lost since the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and it is possible the picture was destroyed at that time."

It is interesting to note that all known copies of the lithograph bear the word "Proof”.  Moore may have perhaps intended to issue the lithograph in larger numbers once the initial fifty were distributed. A census of copies would be interesting today: if in fact only 50 copies were printed, natural wear and loss would reduce the quantity to a handful, making the Interior of a Native Village one of the more rare New Zealand prints.

Full Catalogue Description of the print from Early Prints of New Zealand

Interior of a native village or "Pa", in New Zealand,/situated near the town of Petre, at Wanganui, one of the New Zealand Company's settlements in Cook's Straits, Northern Island,/the figures in the foreground are all portraits, and the original picture (now in London) was painted on the spot./ . . . F.G. Moore, Late of New Zealand, now of 30 Arundel Street Strand. J.A. Gilfillan, M.A. pinxt. — E. Walker, lithr. Day & Son, lithrs. to the Queen. The original picture in the possession of F.G. Moore, 30 Arundel St. Strand. "Proof [1852?] 48.1 x 63.8cm
lithograph in colour, handfinished.

[The print was reproduced by Avon Fine Prints Ltd, Christchurch, 1969 in an edition limited to 1000 copies, NZ Fine Prints have a handful of prints from this later edition available for purchase].

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Sam Hunt's poem “Beware The Man” Painted by Dick Frizzell

One of many new prints in the latest series of reproductions of paintings and editions by Dick Frizzell “Beware the Man” is an unusual collaboration with the popular NZ poet Sam Hunt. Hunt’s poem was written over 40 years ago (you can listen to Hunt recite the poem in a concert with NZ rock band "Mammal" here on YouTube), the words have changed a little over time if you listen carefully and compare it to the text in Frizzell's 2011 painting.

In appearance the painting is similar to the work of Colin McCahon but with a secular rather than religious theme.  Dick says the idea behind the painting came about when three years ago "an advertising agency had the bright idea of getting me to paint a Sam Hunt poem for a campaign they were working on. The advertisement never happened but by then Sam and I were away on our own trajectory. "Beware the Man" is one of Sam's most popular poems. I modelled the lettering and the colours on a 'Trespassers Beware' sign I photographed up in Northland. The bits of red reflector tape around the edges seemed to add an appropriate drama to the poem's message!".

Sam Hunt’s “Beware the Man” by Dick Frizzell
Beware the Man. Poem by Sam Hunt, painted by Dick Frizzell.
Released as a print today (available for sale here), printed using the giclee process for dense blacks and extremely long life colour.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The exhibition that will change Christchurch forever










“Rise” at the Canterbury Museum (and beyond with the “Big Walls” component of the show) will be Christchurch's most influential art exhibition since an alternative exhibition to the Canterbury Society of Arts annual show was put on by “The Group” in 1927.

This single exhibition will inspire a transformation of the visual culture of Christchurch in the years to come. The excitement surrounding "Rise" is not just the sheer joy of seeing for real superb artworks from the art movement that will define our generation but also the way that the creative sails of the new Christchurch are being filled with an inspirational gale.

The Canterbury Museum director Anthony Wright should be knighted for taking the bold step of hosting “Rise”.  Nurturing our community through a strengthening of our culture in a time of need - it's a landmark step in the evolution of the role of the modern museum.  

With the art gallery out of commission and large spaces hard to find hosting "Rise" at Canterbury Museum shows a brave and open minded attitude about the museum’s role in the Christchurch of today.  “Rise” is going to be such a momentous event because it is about the people who are going to see it as much as being about the artists whose work is on show.  Street art is the punk rock of art, the movement that inspires a generation of people to take up an art form because through the lens of something new they catch a glimpse of their own inner artist.  Street art is accessible, inclusive - and as will be shown in Christchurch post "Rise", transformative.

The Oi YOU team have clearly built a professional businesslike organisational structure to put on a blockbuster like “Rise” (7500 visitors in the first few days). With a history of two successful shows in organisers George Shaw and Shannon Webster’s hometown of Nelson, then taking their collection to Sydney and Adelaide the unique catalyst aspect of the event has grown using an exhibition of their superb personal collection of street art as the occasion for local and international street artists to complete works commissioned specially for the show.

Essentially it's the attitude of street art that is just so universally appealing. It was the spilling over of the exhibition into the main museum that tickled me, whimsical wordplay, sly commentary and placing of objects springing from an intelligent cultural awareness.  The mysterious Milton Springsteen’s paintings were fine examples of how you can subvert and transform most effectively if you first take the time to gain a deep appreciation and understanding of your source material.

To see prints by NZ artists such as Component’s fishing boy “Life is a Lottery” looking perfectly at ease next to Banksy is as thrilling for a New Zealander as having Lorde at the top of the global charts. 

Street art will save Christchurch from blandness in a rebuild driven by engineers rather than imagineers.  Sofles piece behind where our gallery and warehouses were on Hereford St is particularly poignant for us, it’s that mix of skill, imagination and connectedness that makes art meaningful over the long term, we talk of finding a print that “resonates” with a customer, it’s so much more useful and deeper than finding what someone simply “likes”.

This is the only exhibition I am insisting my non arty friends go to see.  I want every teacher to arrange a class trip (Rise runs until 23 March 2014 so there is plenty of time in the new school year). Every Christchurch person who doesn’t think they like art should go too - as street art is the perfect gateway drug that can turn people on to how much fun and enjoyment there is in the world of art.   As Banksy himself has shown if you can reach the market of people who don’t buy prints this is many times larger than the market of people who regularly do, likewise “Rise” is the way to engage with people put off by the thicket of theory that envelopes contemporary art. 

The only negative is that annoying feeling of the world discovering your favourite band!  Street art is the most exciting thing in the art world right now and to have “Rise” transforming your hometown in a globally significant way is only just a little bit short of unbelievable.   Street art is the art movement of now and because of the unique situation of Christchurch post earthquake “Rise” will be a pivotal show when art history grads of 2114 are researching the impact of this exciting art movement across the world.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

2013 - NZ Art Print Market Review

During the gift buying season that marks the end of another year all publishing and cataloguing of new prints screeches to a halt while we focus on simply getting the artworks out the door and delivered in time for Christmas.  So just before we descend into the busiest time of the year our catalogue manager takes a look back at 2013.  In this post Antony Ellis reviews the NZ art print market in 2013 from a trends and sales perspective to highlight the significant milestones of the year from our position as NZ’s largest art print retailer.

Art Print Trends during 2013

The best selling print for 2013 in NZ will either be Frizzell's  Mickey to Tiki (yet again) or the wonderful new “Native Birds of NZ” Poster based on the illustrations of J G Keulemans (the artist who illustrated Buller’s Birds of NZ).  The most popular categories of prints overall were Kiwiana and vintage posters but the street art collection is showing the steepest rise in traffic (it was a big year for Banksy with his unofficial New York residency - we also have finally secured a reliable supplier of Banksy prints direct from the UK so had a lot more street art prints to choose from by the end of the year).  The Native birds poster also boosted the popularity of native NZ birds as a theme (it’s a toss up between tikis and birds as the favourite subject of 2013), alongside perennial favourites, the NZ landscape and Coastal & Sea Views.

We have noticed one surprising drop in sales - that of prints on canvas.  Even though we include the value of both unstretched and stretched (mounted) canvases in this sales category (framing of prints on paper we measure as separate line item) sales of prints on canvas are down by nearly twenty percent on 2012.  It’s definitely not the end of the canvas trend full stop but it does point to canvas prints being part of the wall art mix rather than a replacement for reproductions on paper that some people in the industry were predicting.  Picture framers will be relieved if the trend for frameless (gallery wrap) canvas prints starts to abate.  At the lower end of the market (in art industry parlance, non “brand name” artists) the unexpected competition with hand painted canvas prints at rock bottom prices from China being may have hastened the end of generic designs on canvas that were stocked in vast numbers at new outlets for prints such as furniture shops and the bubble like profusion of “design” and “gift” stores that popped up throughout NZ over the last decade.

Publishing News: Prints, posters & limited editions new in 2013


New prints during the year started with us rounding out the range of reproductions of paintings from “gallery” or “fine art” artists not from NZ.  The strength of the NZ dollar against the US dollar and the Euro has made purchasing from overseas art publishers a much more pleasant experience.  We listed many more large art posters (usually the standard US 3 foot by 2 foot size) at prices between $NZ24.95 - $NZ29.95, by famous artists like Klimt, Monet, Mucha, Dali and Kandinsky as well as a good selection of new prints in various formats (such as the Whaam! diptych from pop artist Roy Lichtenstein).  After a few years building up our range of indigenous NZ vintage posters we also filled out the vintage range with new titles focussed around our food and drink category (NZ designers of the vintage period did concentrate on travel and tourism, if you want vintage wine and beer advertisements these tend to be French or Italian).  The top selling print by a non-NZ artist is still the “Holiday on Wheels” print by Boulanger but easily the most popular artist by total sales was street artist Banksy.

Also added were new reproduction prints by significant NZ artists like C F Goldie, Michael Illingworth, Colin McCahon and Bill Hammond.  Our photography selection extended with a large series of large format panoramic posters by photographer Richard Hume.  The biggest collective launch of NZ prints came right at the end of the year with the series of reasonably priced Dick Frizzell reproductions of some of his most well-known silkscreen prints and paintings, images such as Popduck, Grocer with Moko and Big Kiss.

NZ original printmakers like Michael Smither, Tony Ogle were busy during 2013 and limited edition prints from contemporary artists (and now also increasingly from designers/illustrators) such as Greg Straight, Jane Puckey, Susan Haywood Smith and Alec Tayler were listed for the first time.

New NZ Fine Prints Catalogue


The launch of our 2014 catalogue of “Fine Art Prints, Posters & Limited Editions” was a huge effort behind the scenes. Due to the earthquake disruption we skipped an update in 2011.  We must have been a bit rusty as there were more than the usual array of problems (colour matching, making the captions fit underneath every image and checking for typos) publishing this year’s catalogue (the entire first printing was recycled after the complete run was printed without the proof being signed off) so it was relief to see the pallet of brand new catalogues arrive at our warehouse even if they were six weeks late.  The way the auction houses manage to produce their beautiful catalogues of paintings every few weeks throughout the year (especially the dizzy array of designs from Art & Object) is astonishing to contemplate.

NZ Art Print Market Predictions for 2014


  1. We will see prints becoming a little less pop and a bit more street.  
  2. NZ vintage will no longer be seen as hot "trend" (the increase in supply of titles was responsible for the rise in profile of this category more than it simply being in fashion) but will become an enduring part of the market like it is in other countries. 
  3. There will be more “modern vintage”, contemporary prints in a retro style hopefully more representative of modern NZ society than the increasingly simplistic “Kiwiana” style images that are too often simply watered down copies of more and more obscure nostalgic objects from our collective past. 
  4. Dick Frizzell will continue to be the top selling NZ artist by overall print sales and by value, with a new and enthusiastic publisher by his side planning to print dozens of new prints alongside new silkscreen editions we’d be foolish to call the end of his reign as NZ’s most commercially successful artist and printmaker. 
  5. Due to overwhelming demand we’ll be selling more prints pre-framed in our standard timeless framing styles as we slowly roll this out across all of Prints.co.nz but we still support the role of the custom picture framer as being a vital partnership in the enduring story of a business such as NZ Fine Prints.