The Smart Collector

Imagine a tax free retirement nest egg that is economically stable, not reliant on bank backing, with no shareholder requirement, easy to inventory and manage, secure within the walls of your own home and if done right yielding far better returns than bank notes or dividends (unless you happen to be a major shareholder). Yes, that is fine art prints, the best kept secret in art market investment and here's why?

In the last two decades, fine art prints have gained in popularity and prestige, now emerging as valuable assets of investment with the potential to make impressive gains for a relatively small investment of up front capital. American investors are uniquely placed to participate in this growth, given that much of the Golden Age of fine art print creation took place in the USA beginning in the late 1950's  by such famous American artists the likes of Robert Motherwell, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, June Wayne and even some key European artists such as Francoise Gilot (who did a considerable amount of graphic work in the US, with a strong following among collectors especially in the Mid-West and California). The original prints of Gilot, for example, in the last several years have consistently sold at auction for double or even triple the maximum asking price of the auctioneers hammer.

Unlike oil paintings, graphic works have always had appeal to everyday viewers and collectors beginning with the famous Parisian prints at the turn of the 19th century, saw immense value in limited edition original prints, signed by famous artists. This supports the model that ordinary collectors on modest budgets can make considerable investment gains in the long term with carefully selected fine art print acquisitions. 

Why fine art is a smart choice to diversify an Investment Portfolio?

Because the economy periodically collapses into recession with subsequent portfolio losses (typically in the order of 30-40% of ones’ portfolio value) investors frequently ask themselves how they can diversify their investment portfolio to not only maximize gains but even more important, guard against massive negative swings in value, as we are currently experiencing.

As described above, fine art is well known for its investment potential which not only maintains value over time but frequently makes substantial gains as talented artists undergo critical retrospectives (frequently within a year or two of their death) in important galleries and museums, thus increasing their value considerably on the art market (competing well even against a bullish stock market). Not surprisingly, fine art often mirrors buoyant financial markets as investors look to art as a strategic investment option, while during economic recession they are far better at holding their asset value, rarely exhibiting the drastic falls (from 30-50%) seen in stocks, commodities and the real estate market.

 How does One enter the Fine Art Investment Market?

While signed oils on canvas are considered the most valuable works of art, they are typically swallowed up by corporations, museums and high-end collectors, often for exorbitantly high and inflated prices, typically at prestigious auction houses, such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

One of the best kept secrets in the art world and of considerable importance to the average investor, however, is the incredibly good value of fine art prints, especially historically important prints from the turn of the 19th century and following World War Two, frequently created by the same artists producing high end oil paintings selling for hundreds of thousands at auction. Unlike expensive oils, fine art prints (especially color lithographs and serigraphs) are readily accessible to average collectors including works by artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse and others.

Smart collectors can not only have impressive investment portfolios made up of carefully selected fine art prints but these works frequently adorn their walls in the security of their own homes and apartments, to enjoy and admire after a hard days’ work and going into retirement (all protected under appropriate home insurance policies at only a fraction of what is demanded for high priced oil paintings).

 Why Fine Art Prints are a viable and realistic Investment Opportunity Today

While turn of the century prints (such as the works of Manet, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec) are now extremely rare, fragile and available mainly in Europe (especially Paris which was the center of modern art at the time), after World War Two, fine art printmaking expanded from Paris to include the New York and Los Angeles avant-garde modern art communities, with important works created and readily available in the US art market.

A rapid expansion of works produced on paper (with a revival of stone lithography and serigraphs) attributed largely to the innovative prints of the famous School of Paris artists, especially, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, sparked a revival and interest in fine art printmaking by important American modern artists, including Robert Motherwell, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, just to name a few.

The collecting opportunity these fine art prints have created for investors today is significant. This is due to recent increasing popularity (hence monetary value) among buyers of fine art prints (which are achieving sums at auction that were never seen before in previous decades, even during the pandemic) but also an expanded availability of print editions available to collectors typically numbering from 25 up to 100 (unlike a single oil painting) which makes the market much more accessible to every day investors. Moreover, the the condition of post World War Two graphic works are generally in much better shape than the turn of the century prints in France which are now over a century old.

The value of an original print is enhanced by a strict process of quality control with each print created by a master printer matched exactly (in color and form) to the very first print which is approved by the artist (called a Bon a tirer, the most valuable print). It is then given a unique number and signed by the artist (usually in pencil to avoid fading over time) just as they would sign a one off oil painting. 

When Should One start to Invest in Fine Art Prints?

Smart collectors will start investing as early as possible and consider investment as a form of saving and growth for the long term. One can readily enter the market with an investment starting for as little as $200 to $3,000. For instance, the entire Robert Motherwell limited edition Nocturne series (a rare and famous graphic series), made of 7 available fine art prints is available on this DKH site currently for only $2,600 as part of a special short term exhibit (normally priced at over $5,000). This series is a superb first time investment for someone wanting to enter the market with a long term interest in Motherwell (more on the logistics of collecting a specific artist later).

It is best to think of fine art print investing as one thinks of a retirement fund, except this is a retirement investment that one can literally display and enjoy on the walls of your own home or apartment as it continues to grow in value. No other long term investment comes even close, Moreover, as an investor acquires prints of a particular artist over time and learns more about their key graphic works, their ability to create a rare and collectible art portfolio is significantly enhanced, giving a synergistic investment boost to the collection when sold at auction, with the auction house and buyers knowing that the works have come from a significant collector of the artists' work.

How can the Investment Value of a Fine Art Portfolio be Maintained and Improved?

To maximize a fine art print investment, collectors are advised to seek expert advice (especially at the outset) of an experienced and reputable print curator/art historian with in-depth knowledge in modern prints of a particular artist of interest to the collector. Unfortunately, this knowledge is not readily available, with most galleries and even formally trained art historians knowledgeable about oil paintings but frequently with no or very little training in fine art prints. Even gallery owners with an extensive relationship with living artists (often for many decades) will focus only on their oil paintings with little understanding or knowledge of the graphic works created by these artists. This is in large part due to the snobby attitude that the high end art establishment (such as galleries and museums) has toward graphic media, who consider it a "lower" and "less exclusive" form of art in comparison to the unique one off "oil painting."

In reality, the artists themselves have never seen their graphic creations in that light and frequently expend considerable creative effort on their graphic works treating as important as any of their oil paintings. For instance, rather than use lithography as a means of preparing preliminary prints in order to prepare for the creation of an oil painting, famous artists like Toulouse-Lautrec used drawings and even paintings to prepare for his large and very popular fine art lithographic posters that were printed in their thousands and posted all over the street walls of Paris (today these famous posters are very rare to find and expensive). Other artists, like Jim Dine and June Wayne who have created some of the best original prints of the modern era, have chosen to focus almost exclusively on printed works, only rarely turning to oils on canvas or other media.

To maintain investment value, it is emphasized that fine art print collecting should be considered a long-term activity with careful selection of rare prints (including Bon a tirer or artists proofs if available) focusing on one or at most a few artists that the collector enjoys and will want to retain or display for the long term (years to decades). A well thought out fine art print collection not only adds value to the portfolio but makes it far more historically appealing and relevant when the time eventually comes to go to auction or sell via a reputable print gallery.

 The long-term nature of fine art print collecting is also emphasized because important works of an artist that make sense within a particular collection may only rarely become available for acquisition (depending on the artist) at intervals of months to sometimes years. So patience, knowledge and experience are required to maximize your investment.

Short term profits on works rapidly acquired and then divested, is tempting for investors, but will only diminish the overall value of a collection, which is best envisaged as an entire portfolio purposely and carefully built up over time.


How can DKH Gallery Help You?

DKH Gallery is one of only very few art galleries that focuses exclusively on fine art prints, especially fine art color lithography and serigraphs. It was founded by University of Michigan Masters level trained modern art historians with extensive knowledge of late 19th century and 20th century original prints, including the important School of Paris, Post-Abstract Expressionist and PoP art printmakers (the Golden Age of 20th century printmaking).

Because documentary evidence of provenance (that is, who the print has been owned by and sold too) is frequently a problem in fine art print collecting (with potential for forged reproductions), the DKH curators have considerable practical expertise in the use of state of the art, high magnification digital microscopy and UV light examination to verify the type of print medium (such as, stone lithography, serigraphy or offset printing), paper age and evidence of signature to help authenticate a given print.  Combined with an extensive in-house library of Catalog Raisonne reference information (where available), the DKH curators are well equipped to verify the authenticity of fine art prints and their real investment value.

Feel free to review the works currently available at DKH on this website. Examples of important works, including the Motherwell Nocturne series special exhibit, is exhibited below along with other significant vintage original prints and lithographic posters by famous fine artists spanning over 100 years of fine art printmaking.  The listing demonstrates graphic works from important artists the likes of Henri Matisse and Tououse-Lautrec to Robert Motherwell and William De Kooning at entry level investments starting for as little as $200 to mid level investments including, for example, the very rare bon a tirer original print of Clinton Adams for $3,000.

As part of our commitment to new collectors and investors of fine art original prints, DKH is offering all works exhibited below at 25% discount for first time clients.

For additional background also browse the curated exhibitions titled Modern Prints and the Modern Print revival of the 20th century in the main menu above, for vital background on the significance of modern original prints.

If you have a specific graphic art work that you are wanting to acquire (especially via auction or private sale) please contact our experienced and qualified DKH print curators who will assist you in verification, appropriate valuation and even acting as your purchasing agent if needed. If you have a particular work or artist in mind, our print curators can also help you acquire the work (through a network of contacts), minimizing the risk and work involved in adding a particular fine art print to your investment portfolio. Just ask.