Prints: The Sale of the Century… one of the most important collections of prints ever put up for auction


Christie’s had already started the season well: its sales of Contemporary prints were marked by BANKSY’s NOLA (Green Rain) which fetched $184,000 in London and David HOCKNEY’s Walking Past Two Chairs which sold for $57,600 in New York. Then there were the good results in its Prints and Multiples online sale that generated a total of $5.6 million (with a 92% success rate). Coinciding with the events marking fifty years since Pablo PICASSO’s death, some of the artist’s most remarkable prints were presented, including a Bust of a woman after Cranach the Younger which fetched $686,600!

Then came Christie’s The Sale of the Century, An Important Corporate Collection of Prints and Multiples which took over $13 million. All in all, Christie’s Prints and Multiples Department can be very proud of their spring season, with a turnover total so far this year above $20 million.

The Sale of the Century, An Important Corporate Collection of Prints and Multiples, which closed on 19 April, presented a major collection by a single owner who, over a number of decades, collected hundreds of prints. Nearly four hundred of them, tracing the history of 20th century printmaking, were offered online and they included an unprecedented selection of complete portfolios (which fetch the highest prices on the market) making it one of the most important dispersions of prints and multiples ever hosted.

Results for the most remarkable portfolios at Christie’s April 19 sale:

  • Andy Warhol’s 10 Flowers series: $2.349 million
  • An extremely rare copy of Cantos by Barnett Newman: $2.1 million
  • David Hockney’s A Rake’s Progress: $541,800, double the high estimate.
  • Andy Warhol’s 10 Campbell’s Soup: $1 million.
  • Jasper Johns’ 10 Color Numeral series: $819,000
  • Jasper Johns’ 0-9 Suite: $504,000.

Other highlights of this Sale of the Century were more Modern works, including Henri Matisse’s famous Jazz, which sold for $630,000, and El Lissitzky’s Victory over the Sun, which fetched $138,600.

Also on display was a precious plate by Picasso, a version of Repas Frugal from Baer’s second and final state,  the edition of 250 published by Ambroise Vollard in 1913. The plate fetched $239,400, against a high estimate given at $180,000. But this subject of Picasso can be worth much more depending on the print: last year, another Le repas frugal, printed by Auguste Delâtre and above all signed by Picasso, sold for $8m, becoming the
world’s second-most expensive print ever sold at auction after David Hockney’s Piscine De Medianoche.


David Hockney’s price index at auction (blue) with its prints index (yellow). Copyright

Demand for and prices of prints

In its 2022 Global Art Market Report (free access at, Artprice notes a very substantial expansion of the art market’s prints segment, today, an extremely dynamic category with a record number of transactions last year and a record global turnover.

During the early stages of the Covid pandemic in 2020, auction sales of prints expanded while other mediums experienced a contraction. Driven by demand for very fashionable Contemporary editions that are typical of ‘pleasure-purchasing’, more than 111,000 prints sold during the year 2020, equivalent to 23% of global art auction transactions, and on a par with the number of drawings that sold during the same period! In the context of restrictions on physical sales with almost all art auction sales moving online, prints were seen as an easy purchase, with minimal risks and lower logistical costs (transport, insurance, etc.) compared with the purchase and transportation of painting or sculpture.

Since then, demand has again increased considerably and 2022 was another record year in terms of transactions and turnover, with prints generating over $500 million at auction last year.

Prints, which seduce by their affordability (more than 90,000 lots sold for prices under $500 in 2022), provide access to all the great signatures of Old Master Art (Rembrandt, Dürer, etc.), Modern art (Picasso, Miro , Matisse, Calder…), Post-War art (Lichtenstein, Warhol…), Contemporary art (Banksy, Nara, Hirst…) and are clearly a medium with a bright future.