Thursday 8 December 2016

Treasures: Artists not formerly known for prints

Published 13/05/2016 | 02:30

The New York Club Regatta
The New York Club Regatta
Entry Of George IV Into Dublin

Do you have a Rembrandt in your attic? An undiscovered painting by the 17th century Dutch master would be headline news indeed, but Rembrandt also made prints and these are far more plentiful than his paintings.

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They're also more likely to be overlooked. In 2010 an original Rembrandt etching was discovered in a bathroom of the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. Nobody knows how it got there. And in 2014, someone at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh spotted that a Rembrandt copper plate etching, catalogued as a copy, was in fact an original. That means that it was made from the artist's original plate (even though it was actually printed after his death).

An original Rembrandt print can fetch anything between €2,000 and €200,000, depending on rarity and condition. The trouble is, to the untrained eye, a print made by Rembrandt in the 17th century looks virtually identical to a later copy.

The Irish print maker Captain William Baillie (1723-1810) played havoc with Rembrandt's legacy by producing prints in the style of the Dutch master. He obtained a worn original plate of Rembrandt's Hundred Guilder Print (it shows Christ healing the sick) and reworked it. He then cut the plate into four pieces and took impressions from the individual sections. The antiquarian John Thomas Smith, a contemporary of Baillie's, commented that the Irishman "could neither draw, nor had he an eye for effect," and was harsh in his criticism of Baillie's copy of Rembrandt's Three Trees, which he embellished with flashes of lighting.

That said, Baillie's efforts are not without value. In 2014, a copy of The Works of Captain William Baillie After Paintings and Drawings by the Greatest Masters (c.1800) sold at Adam's for €1,600.

Prints, in general, are notoriously difficult to identify. Consequently, it's hard to know whether they are valuable or not. "You need to keep your eyes peeled," says Stuart Cole of Adam's. Last June, a very ordinary looking print, The Lonely Tower Etching by Samuel Palmer (1805-1881) sold at Adam's for €1,100. "It was the sort of thing you might have stepped over and if someone told you it was worth a fiver you'd have believed them," says Cole.

"The fun part of print collecting is that most people haven't a clue. There are only three types of printing and once you know which family a print belongs to, it brings you a long way towards knowing when it was made."

The earliest and simplest of these is relief printing where an impression is carved on to a flat surface, like a block of wood. Anyone who did potato printing in primary school can understand the principle. The second family of print is intaglio where lines cut into a metal plate are filled with ink and the flat surfaces wiped clean. Dampened paper is pressed against the plate under pressure and picks up the ink from the grooves. There are many types of intaglio - etching, engraving, mezzotint and aquatint - which was the dominant form of printing between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Around 1796, an otherwise unknown Bavarian playwright, Alois Senefelder, accidentally discovered that he could print his scripts by writing them on slabs of limestone in greasy crayon. His discovery gave rise to the third family of printing, known as lithography.

Once you've learned to spot the difference between a woodcut, an etching, and a lithograph, the next step for the budding print geek is to get to grips with understanding paper. "Up until 1840, paper was made from linen or cotton rag," says Cole. "It was dried on wire racks, which left a mark, and it was also watermarked. If you hold a Malton print up to the light you can see the watermark."

The 25 prints from James Malton's Picturesque And Descriptive View Of The City Of Dublin (1792-1799) have been ubiquitously reproduced, but the original engravings are valuable. A full set, together with the original volume and description of plates, sold at Adam's for €20,000 in March 2014.

In the forthcoming Fine Period Interiors Auction at Adam's, a pair of 18th century prints - a View Of Essex Bridge and a General View Of Dublin From The Park - is estimated between €300 and €400. They belong to a type of etching known as aquatint, in which the plate was worked with a fine network of lines to give a tonal impression that resembles a watercolour. The black and white prints were then hand-coloured with a watercolour wash. All Malton's prints, for example, were aquatints.

The sale also includes a print by Robert Havell showing the Entry Of George IV Into Dublin In 1821. George was on his way to visit his mistress, Lady Conyngham, in Slane Castle. The print (€400 to €600) shows the splendid kit-out of the Lord Mayor's Guard (they look like Beefeaters) as the royal carriage passes under an arch constructed for the visit.

Havell's son Daniel followed in his father's printmaking footsteps and a pair of his aquatints, A View Of Part Of The Bay And City Of Dublin and A View Of The New Pier And The Lighthouse At Howth, Near Dublin (€1,000 to €1,500, is included in the auction. Lithography is represented in the sale by a 19th century American print, The New York Club Regatta (€2,000 to €3,000). "It's an interesting contemporary view of a society event," says Cole. "But it's also something that could be left hanging on a wall without anyone realising that it has value."

Adam's Fine Period Interiors Auction takes place on Sunday, May 22 with full details on adams.ie.

In the salerooms

JOHN WELDON  AUCTIONEERS

Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer, preferably with a poison ring close to hand. The forthcoming sale at John Weldon Auctioneers includes a ladies’ antique gold gem-set poison ring (below), est €300 to €500.

The 19th century ring has a secret compartment where one could hide poison, ready for use. “Even in Victorian times, one had to mind one’s drink,” Weldon notes. On a more serious note, the sale will include the Danske Bank Silver Collection.

The bank has discontinued operations in Ireland and has now embarked on the corporate equivalent of selling the family silver. Lots range from a late Victorian embossed silver tea and coffee service (€2,000 to €5,000) to a silver Corinthian pillar oil lamp with cut glass bowl, (€500 to €1,000).

Interesting pieces of jewellery in the sale include a fine Art Nouveau necklace (€2,500 to €4,500) attributed to the famous German designer and goldsmith, Lucas von Cranach (1861-1918).

The auction takes place on May 17 at 2pm, with full details on jwa.ie.

O’REILLY’S

The “girl’s best friend” of which Marilyn Monroe so poignantly sang will be to the fore this month at O’Reilly’s Auction Rooms.

Solitaire diamonds on offer include a diamond solitaire ring with an oval cut diamond mounted on white gold. It comes with a HRD diamond grading certificate stating the diamond to be 5.03ct, H colour, Internally Flawless (€90,000 to €100,000). Other valuable diamond solitaire rings include one set with a brilliant cut diamond. The GIA diamond grading report states the diamond to be 2.48 ct, D colour IF clarity (€60,000 to €70,000).

Not all the rings are in this price bracket and more modest lots include an antique diamond ring of plaque design (and exquisite craftsmanship) set with old cut diamonds and mounted in white gold (900 to €1,000).

The sale takes place on Wednesday, May 18 at 1pm, with full details on oreillysfineart.com.

MEALY’S

The sale of the entire contents of Lotabeg, Tivoli, represents a rare chance to see behind the doors of one of Cork’s landmark houses and to inspect a collection of antiques acquired by the Hart family over the past century.

The house at Lotabeg was designed by Abraham Hargrave I (1755-1808) and is renowned for the triumphal arch entrance locally known as ‘Callaghan’s Gate’. This arch is surmounted with a stone carved Irish wolfhound, known as The Black Dog. It commemorates the hound that saved the 19th century owner, Daniel Callaghan MP, from drowning in the River Lee.

The sale will take place on May 24 in the Silver Springs Clayton Hotel. Viewing is at Lotabeg House from May 21-23. Entrance to the house is by catalogue only (€20, admits two adults), available at the Silver Springs Clayton Hotel from where a return shuttle bus will bring viewers to and from the hotel and the house. For full details see mealys.ie.

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