Did you know Rembrandt made a 1654 etching showing a golfer? Did you know that the 1800s painter Winslow Homer helped make a woodcut print of a football game, or that you can purchase Andy Warhol limited edition screen prints of Wayne Gretzky, Muhammad Ali, Eric Heiden and Pete Rose?
Fine art isn’t just for museums these days. Increasingly, sports collectors are purchasing original sports themed prints by famous artists. Major sports auction houses have offered prints by Warhol, Salvador Dali, Rembrandt, Roy Lichtenstein, Picasso and Leroy Neiman.
For beginner collectors concerned with authenticity, the fine arts can be intimidating and overwhelming. As in all areas of collecting, there are fakes, forgeries and reprints. In fact, fine art prints were being forged long before baseball was a sport. As one collector said to me when inquiring about a Salvador Dali print he had purchased years earlier, “Not only do I have no idea if this is authentic, I have no idea how to find out if it’s authentic.”
You will be happy to know that there are reference books and websites that the collector can use to help judge the authenticity of a print for sale and learn the specifics about the work.
For sellers and buyers of prints by a famous artist, a catalogue raisonne (plural: catalogues raisonne) is an essential information resource. Catalogues raisonne are large illustrated books used by Sotheby's, Christies, museums and advanced collectors to help identify and authenticate prints. They are also a great starting point for the beginning collector, offering an illustrated survey and description of the artist's work.
A catalogue raisonne is a book or series of books covering a specific area of an artist's work (paintings, sculpture, prints, other). They are researched and produced by the top experts in the field, including professors, museums curators and gallery owners. They are often assisted or otherwise approved by the artist or artist's estate.
While catalogues raisonne vary in quality, a good one will be extensively illustrated and give most of the essentials of the artist's original prints. These essentials can include dimensions of a print, type of printing used (etching, engraving, other), number of prints, editions, how a print is signed and numbered, watermarks, the type of paper used, and so on. A catalogue often includes helpful biographical and artistic information, such as describing the printing techniques and styles, and details known fakes and unauthorized reprints. Some catalogues are so lavishly and colorfully illustrated, they are worth the price simply as picture books for the coffee table.
The essential nature of a catalog raisonne is that it lists what prints are recognized as genuine works by the artist. While there will be some legitimate uncatalogued prints, most collectors should stick to what is catalogued. If a print for sale is not listed and detailed in the catalogue raisonne or called genuine by other substantive source (expert opinion, authoritative article), the average collector should not buy.
If the least that collectors of the world did was to determine if a print is listed as authentic in the catalogue raisonne and that the bare basics (size, signature, numbering, etc) matches the catalogue listing, the sale of forgeries and fakes would be reduced by over 90 percent.
Obtaining a particular artist's catalogue can be difficult. While catalogues by some artist's can be bought on eBay and popular bookstores like amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, they are often expensive. Some are extremely difficult to find and a few may not be in English! I own a Picasso catalogue raisonne written in French with German translation and I know neither language.
For the hard-to-find catalogues raisonne, the collector should look high and low. This includes looking at used bookstores, libraries and asking around. Some galleries or dealers have libraries and will let collectors reference them.
With reputable auctioneers and dealers who specialize is expensive fine art, the auction description will typically detail that a print is officially "listed" as genuine by listing the catalogue's title, author and the catalogue number and/or page number for the print. Even if the collector does not have access to the particular catalogue, he will at least know that the print is listed in a catalogue raisonne.
The following are free online catalogues raisonne and related websites for famous artists:
Leroy Neiman: http://www.leroyneiman.com
This is Neiman’s official site, maintained by his publisher, and contains the complete illustrated catalogue raisonne. It includes commentary for collectors written by the artist.
Andy Warhol: http://www.warholprints.com
This website is maintained by a prominent art gallery that worked directly with Warhol and was the original distributer for some of his prints. The information was officially approved as accurate by Warhol’s estate.
Salvador Dali: http://www.daliarchives.com
Dali is one of the most forged of all artists, and the collector of his work has to be particularly careful. This is the website of the Salvador Dali Archives in New York City, the organization formed with Dali's approval and originally run the world's leading Dali expert, Albert Field. It is the publisher of the official Dali catalogue raisonne (not online). The collector can pay for their opinion on a Dali artwork.
The Print Council Index to Oeuvre-Catalogues of Prints by European and American Artists. This lists about all of the catalogues raisonne ever published: http://www.printcouncil.org/search.html
Barnes and Noble http://www.bn.com
Alibris http://www.alibris.com (Specializes in rare books, so offers a larger selection)
eBay http://www.ebay.com (Check regularly, and you will often see rare catalogues for auction.)