J.S. has a Rembrandt etching of a windmill, 8 inches by 6 inches. The print is signed in the plate (the artist etched his name into the copper before it was printed) and dated 1641.
Rembrandt etchings "pulled" when the artist was alive can be extremely valuable. If this print dated to the late 17th century, we'd be talking $70,000 to $100,000. In some cases, the copper plate, which the artist engraved, was still being used to print from in the 18th century; 82 such plates are known to exist today in museums and private hands. Rembrandt was known to have etched more than 300 plates in his lifetime.
Rembrandt was deeply in debt in the mid-17th century and may have sold some of his copper plates. His friend, Clement De Jonghe, got a hold of 70-plus plates before his death. In 1767, 70-some plates were auctioned off to a man who sold them to a French printmaker, Claude-Henri Watelet (1718-86), whose estate sold them to another French printmaker, Pierre-Francois Basan (1723-97). Basan and his son published limited editions through 1810, when Basan's widow sold them again, falling eventually into the hands of the Bernard family of printmakers, who printed off these plates, until purchased by another printer, Beaumont, who printed off the plates. So, you see a Rembrandt etching could be almost any age and originate from one of Rembrandt's plates, although some may have been altered by Watelet in the late 18th century.
This trend continued: Beaumont sold the plates to an American, who loaned them to the North Carolina Museum of Art, where they were kept until their sale in 1993. A dealer at that sale, Howard Berge, purchased eight plates and printed an edition called "Millennium Impressions" in early 2000.
There's an interesting Santa Barbara connection to this sale, but that's another story. Many famous museums purchased plates.
Suffice it to say, J.S.'s print could be almost any age, but not J.S.'s paper. Almost all prints made before 1800 are printed on laid paper, which is made by hand in a mold, where wires in a mesh support the paper pulp and give a distinctive watermark pattern to the paper. After the late 18th century, prints begin to be struck on wove paper, the paper we are most familiar with today, lacking those "laid" lines.
And the size of the image of the print matters too, because if J.S.'s print was pulled from a Rembrandt plate, the size will be exact to about one-quarter of an inch. This, in J.S.'s example, is true.
Finally, J.S., take out a magnifying glass. Check to see if the lines of the etching are crisp and detailed. Check to see if you see a dot matrix pattern, which would indicate a lithograph made "after" an etching, or a photomechanical (photographic) reproduction.
In my opinion, J.S.'s print is not "crisp" enough to be a "fresh" pull. J.S. can compare his work with the many photographs of images he will find in museum catalogs. And holding J.S.'s paper up to the light, we see no laid marks; if J.S.'s print is a 19th century restrike, it could still be worth big bucks, however, printed on wove paper. Here's the pay grade: authentic etchings from Rembrandts' plates 17th and 18th centuries, we're talking five to six figures; 19th to early 20th centuries, copies or reprints with photomechanical process on wove paper, two to three figures! Frankly, if J.S.'s image is actually just a print, that would mean that it is worth about as much as the paper it was printed on and can go as low as $25 at auction. From the photo J.S. sent, I would assume the image to be an etching, which would put it at low three figures. Remember, however, that almost everyone had a Rembrandt image in 1910-1940. Another value characteristic is the condition of the paper; in J.S.'s case, there is moderate acid burn from a poor mount (the poorest of all poor mounts is cardboard, which contains paper-destroying acid).
One encouraging feature of J.S.'s print is the "plate mark" or the indentation of the paper we would expect to see with an intaglio print. That indented rectangular impression around the outside of the print is good news. However, in the early 20th century, those impressed lines were "pushed" into paper to imitate a "real" intaglio print. My advice is to send a very good photo to Christie's London along with a photo of the paper held up to the light. Ask them for auction estimates.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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