M.H. from Ventura has a print by Christian Riese Lassen, a fine Hawaiian marine artist. The work is titled at the top “The Circle of Life,” with the artist’s name also printed at the bottom. MH’s artwork presents the opportunity to answer common questions about popular living artists. A few of these artists, such as Lassen, Thomas Kinkade, and Peter Lik only sell at retail from their own (often online) galleries. These galleries bear the epitaph “official.” What degree does OFFICIAL play in authenticity?
This is an important question, because these popular artists who have command of their marketplace often take complete control of what it means for their own work to be authentic, and their definition differs from the majority consensus of the art world. The key to value lies, for these artists, in the phenomena of a tightly controlled market, with a unique definition of authentic and official. Does M.H. own an “authentic” or “official” lithograph, which by its nature is multiple? Or does M.H. own an “official” or “authentic” poster? The answer lies in how and whom the artist assigns to confer authenticity. Lassen’s website reserves the in-house right to authenticate, which in turn determines value. Thus, value comes from within the gallery.
This is different from other works of art. Authenticity is established, in the case of a modern master painting, by scholars, or (in France) the families of the artist. If a work is judged authentic, the market then determines value based on similar works by that artist.
Lassen’s colorful online gallery qualifies the authentication process. The site will give a current retail cost for pieces in their “Current Lassen Authorized Price Book,” which holds work currently for sale. If a run of a print is sold out, which they estimate happens in 4-years, the online gallery is unable to provide retail costs. This is the inverse of some other works of art, which mature into a price point. Lassen’s market depends on future releases that will sell at retail.
Many collectors receive a letter at purchase, a “Certificate of Authenticity.” If MH’s is lost, the gallery needs proof that she is the original owner (more about why later), the work’s title, the edition letters/numbers, the image’s measurements, and the medium. The site advises that if collectors want to sell a Lassen work, they do not offer this experience. Retail, novelty, and newness are valuation criterion.
The reason that proof of purchase is required is not altogether about establishing authenticity; it is a way to keep the retail gallery as the predominant marketplace arbiter. If nothing is authenticable unless the first purchasers hold it, only the arm’s length retail marketplace is active, and therefore only retail-sold works can be authenticated. If there’s no other work BUT retail, there’s no secondary market, such as U.S. auction houses, because auctioneers who are held to a certain regulated standard need to research and justify value.
M.H., I found many of Lassen’s lithographic prints at auction in Japan’s Mainichi Auction House; I searched for “Circle of Life” assuming I would see other eponymous prints. Other lithographs in the “Life” titles do not have a running title across the top, although some are signed in gold leaf across the bottom. Unlike yours, these actually look hand-signed.
The Lassen lithos at Mainichi Auctions fetch around $1,000 each. For Lassen’s original (acrylic on canvas) paintings, the auction sales range is wide: from $1,500 to $10,000 per canvas. Lassen’s work is attractive enough to the Japanese buyer that the lack of a secondary market established over time is perhaps not a deterrent to bidding. Mainichi auctions have sold many Lassens, thus value may be estimated by following those auction results, but, because of wildly fluctuating prices paid, I wouldn’t rely on Mainichi estimates. This is a good example of the collision of two very different methods of art valuations: one from the artist gallery that sets the price, and one from the auction world, which sets another.
I notice that the June 11th “Paintings” auction at Mainichi in Tokyo features Lassen’s acrylic original “Dolphin” at 58x88 cm, signed, going for an estimate around $18,800.
M.H., I could find no lithograph like yours, but I did find TEC Hawaii offering YOUR image in a “high-quality – the finest inks and poster board available” – poster. The retail price is $40. Unless your print is hand-signed by Lassen (and I would need to unglazed and examine it), I’m afraid it’s not worth much.
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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