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Original Prints, London, reaching a new audience

Today’s print buyer is no longer a specialist collector

London

“I think that when this fair started 18 years ago, prints were seen as a daunting and frightening field, reserved for collectors. Now there is a new audience of people interested in art, who buy things to hang and enjoy, but who are not specialists,” says Gordon Cooke of the Fine Art Society.

This was his explanation of the success of the Original Print Fair, held here 24 to 27 April, the “best ever” for the Fine Art Society, which sold four Whistlers (the most expensive at £30,000), four Nevinsons and two Raviliouses, as well as works by Sutherland, Griggs, Bevan and Scott.

Their success was echoed by a number of other dealers: Sims Reed had “sold well across the board”, including a Warhol portrait of Ingrid Bergman at £13,000.

Richard Selby of the Redfern Gallery said the fair was “great, and we did well with mainly mid range things including Patrick Proctor’s “Chinese series” aquatint for £2,500.” Boerner, showing some exquisite prints by Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Goltius, were also “very happy” with the show.

Last year the combination of a national holiday, a key football match and the May Day protest marches had kept entries down, and without these distractions this year saw over 6,000 people through the doors.

Royal Academy rooms give this fair both dignified surroundings and a shared kudos with the institution. A “Young collectors” evening brought in 600 at the start of the event.

While there were some very expensive pieces on show, notably the whole set of Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Elles” lithographs from 1896 at £485,000 (Frederick Mulder), much on display was under £20,000, and dealers admitted to having brought more mid-range pieces. Flowers, for example, was showing a group of Peter Howson’s “Underground” portraits from an edition of 20, hand coloured by the artist. Fourteen of the series had been sold in the gallery show, and the eight still to go were priced at £1,290. Advanced Graphics had Ray Richardson’s characteristic blunt-headed dogs from £250, while Alan Cristea sold several of a bright set of Julian Opie lambda prints of racing drivers for £1,450.

British artists were everywhere, with Bridget Riley, Sutherland, Nicholson, or Craigie Aitchison on a number of stands. Linoprints from Grosvenor School luminaries Cyril Powers, Claude Flight and Sybil Andrews continue to rise in price and in the esteem of collectors. Power’s “Runners”, from about 1930, was priced at £7,000 at Redfern, and Andrew’s “Swans” at £2,500. Scolar Fine Art sold Power’s “The eight” for £18,000: “There is international demand for these works, particularly the classic sporting ones. They are quite difficult to find, so we are paying higher prices to acquire them,” said Mr Selby.

Also popular were artists from both the world wars: Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and C.R.W. Nevinson, and the Fine Art Society sold Nevinson’s “Barley at 4,000 ft” for £8,500 and “Flooded trench on the Yser” for £4,500, while Austin/Desmond was showing “In the air”, 1917, for £12,000. “Nevinson’s work does well in fairs,” said Mr Cooke of the Fine Art Society, “The imagery is strong, perhaps because his father was a war correspondent and this gave him a sense of a telling, front-page splash.”

These prices are comparable to, sometimes more than, those asked for some of the most established artists, and Sims Reed had a big and beautiful Miró “Barcelona”, 1973, for £10,000 as well as a Warhol “Flowers” priced at £12,000. Also present were a number of dealers in Old Master prints, and Emanuel von Baeyer, sold five prints to the British Museum and a double portrait of “The brothers Eberhard” by Johann Anton Ramboux for £25,000, to another British institution.

With Damien Hirst leading the first exhibition at the newly opened Saatchi Gallery in County Hall just over the river, the Paragon Press was offering two portfolios of his Spin etchings. Each of the 68 editions comes with an original spin painting cover to the box, and is priced at £24,000. The edition was shown at the Armory Show where half sold; in London at least another two found homes. Such buyers are among the new audience that the fair is now reaching.

Originally published in The Art Newspaper as 'Reaching a new audience'