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The Art of Fine Art Prints

Updated on March 15, 2022

What You Need To Know

The status quo for vintage fine art prints is chaotic: For the most part people are getting ripped off and no one really cares. Hundreds of years ago, artist wanted a way to make copies of art with good reasoning and for many reasons as well. Rembrandt (for example) would paint a masterpiece and it would cost a lot to own. In Rembrandt's days the only people who owned a Rembrandt painting were noblemen or rich folk aside of queens and kings. Rembrandt resolve was to make a smaller version of a painting that was engraved or etched and then sell those at an affordable price to peasants. So began the birth engraving, etchings and lithographs etc. so that art can sell to the common folk. Most artist would make an etched or engraved version of their painting.

Etching was a term used by goldsmiths during the middle ages. Goldsmiths would carve designs into spoons, guns, cups and any other metal objects. The term etchings today to the modern folk means a print processed on fine paper or flat surface produced from carving into wood or flat metals like copper or hard aluminum. This first printmaking version of an etching was established in 14th-15th century by Daniel Hopfer (1470–1536). Daniel Hopfer was the first artist to carve into a flat metal plate (copper, bronze, etc..) and then coat it with ink. Afterwards he would apply a fine paper or material and then press the material/paper to where a fine picture adhered. Many acclaimed artist throughout the 15th -17th used this technique of printmaking art thereof. Among some greatest etchers was Rembrandt, Jacques Callot, Francisco Goya, Albrecht Durer, Hendrik Goltzius, James Tissot, James Whistler, Van Jan Both, Charles Meryon, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Moran, Seymour Haden and J M W Turner. With etchings artist can press hundreds of copies off the same plate that was carved. Most of these artist made oil paintings and drawings but etching was a new superb way of making art to supply the demand.

Etchings can be classified into two states/categories, Modern & Old Masters. Old masters are from acclaimed artist from the 14th-16th century and range from a single to a series. It is of more value when the original presser (etcher) did the work himself. Etchings pressed by an apprentice of an acclaimed Old Master (Rembrandt, Cassat, Goya, etc..) during the time the artist lived are considered Old Masters as well and are recognized as fine art. Artist etchings that were made after an artist died using the engravings/plates of a prior acclaimed artist are considered reproductions. I say this because other artist or peasants alike gained access to these plates. If and when they repressed the same plate (even altering) it becomes another state but still the original artist's art. So let's say a Rembrandt etching can be copied off the same plate which still exist but would be of less value because of the age that it was created. The paper and stamp can well be a great identifier and solution as to the authenticity of an etching. Engravings and Etchings alike have been made of the same plate after another artist's death but it does not make it a fake, just a reproduction. There are different states in between Old Masters and reproductions but distinguishing originals to reproductions is highly possible due to the paper type and state.

This etching technique of art was not recognized or valued until the aftermath of a 2 day entrepreneur's conference in 1956. In that year a group of scholars, collectors, museum curators and dealers gathered at the Alverthorpe Gallery in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania to discuss the lack of recognition of printmaking as a creative medium. There was much confusion as to what was original and what was reproduction, standards in quality in new & old prints, and lack of publications devoted to the graphic arts. With this group of entrepreneurs was born The Print Council of America incorporated as a non-profit organization. Since then they have been recognized for fostering creations, dissemination and appreciation of fine prints new & old. They established the rules for which art is appraised and the distinguishing of fine prints, reproductions and fraudulent copies.

Other techniques of etchings/engravings were created during or after these times. There is currently many ways of etching like:


Dry point Etching

Electrolytic Etching - Electroetching

Laser Engraving


Mezzo Tint

Spite Bite

Sugar Lift

About The Etchings Below

These pictures of etchings below are actual etchings or engravings. These are not reproductions are are recognized as fine art.

Frederick S. Church "The Snow Image" Etching


How Fine Art Prints Began

The oldest engravings known to man are dated at around the year 1430. It is possible that the art was around even longer. It was during this age that artist and engravers started to mingle and share ideas. Engravers in these times would engrave silverware, knight's armor, tables, and many more types or metals to furnish a distinctive design. Once the engravers mingles with the local artist , the artist began to incorporate engraving to make art. At first then practiced on wood and made wood engravings. Almost a century later it was then practiced on copper plates by well known artist. Rembrandt became one of the most influential artist to give a push to the new medium and movement. About a hundred years after Rembrandt, Francisco Goya's generation applied acid to the metals that they were etching and this was the birth of an etchings. The difference between an engraving and an etching is simply the acid on the metal itself. This form of art would not be recognized or respected until the late 1800's.

Once upon a time fine art printing was used for mass printed materials including banknotes, stock certificates, newspapers and magazines, fabrics, wallpapers and even sheet music. Today intaglio engraving is largely used for paper or plastic currency, banknotes, passports and high-value postage stamps.

How to buy real fine art prints

What you need to know when your collecting vintage fine art:

The greatest thing to me about fine art prints is that they were greatly catalogued. As far back as prints were made, the artist would create a perfect catalog of their work. When Rembrandt would make an impression of a plated image this would be called the first state. It would be then pressed (the first impression) into a book or portfolio. So if you wanted to buy one that looks similar all you have to do is compare to the original which was well documented. They are key factors to determine a real from a fake. The paper type and scrutiny of the impression is first hand. If 100's of years later the Brooklyn Museum bought one of Rembrandt's copper plates from his age and then re-scratched the plate to revitalize the image, it is still considered a Rembrandt just a different state. The museum will have to catalog their version which you can scrutinize to tell the difference. For every other impression a fine art print is made, it is considered another state.

More Fine Art

© 2012 Felix J Hernandez


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