|Home | Shopping Cart | Reference Books | Custom Mats & Framing | Archival Storage & Supplies | Restoration | Appraisals|
Creating the Picture: In the method of copper plate engraving, grooves or depressions are made in the smooth surface of a copper plate to hold ink. That ink would later be transferred onto the paper during the process of printing. The design would depend on the pattern, depth, and width of the grooves and depressions made by the artist.
Two Methods of "Cutting Into" the Plate: Two basic methods created ink hollows in the plate:
Actual Printing: Etchings were physically printed my means of a hand operated press that squeezed the inked copper plate down onto the surface of a single sheet of moistened fine rag paper.
- Drypoint: The traditional method where a sharp stylus or diamond tipped "point" is used to cut an outline-like picture into the plate. Used for fine details, such as faces, hands, and furniture details.
- Acid Etch: Harsh acid solutions are used to burn the surface of the copper down in specific areas. Pattern and depth of burn will determine design & tone. Contesting chemicals can be added to acid to make it burn in splotchy, feathered, or bubble like patterns.
Inks/Colors: Most etchings were printed in black water-resistant inks. After the picture was dried, additional fine details such as fingernails, lips, jewelry, and shoes could be painted in by either the artist himself or hired assistants using watercolors. However, an entire etching could be printed in an alternate color, such as brown, grey, or lavender by simply picking that ink for the initial run. Generally, Boudoir artists preferred to print primarily in black ink, and later go back to "overlay" sections of color where needed in the process of a second printing. Inks would be dabbed onto specific areas of the plate, and then transferred onto the black and white image by "registering", or aligning, the plate with its original position over the paper. In this way, more and more complex, multiple "overlays", could be added by overprinting second, third and fourth times. Advanced engravers, such as Icart, sometimes employed fractional color plates for only specific sections of the sheet!
Papers: Since the artists considered these works limited edition pieces of fine art, they were printed on fine rag papers that would endure time. Thankfully, that allows us to restore them more successfully than the cheaper pulp papers.
Artist Signed: Most all Boudoir etchings are signed by the artist in pencil.
Edition Sizes: The copper plates used in engraving have a limited lifespan due to the soft metal losing some of its "edge", or detail, with each successive use upon the press. Usually, 350 to 500 copies are made from the typical plate. In the early years of Boudoir Art, the tradition of numbering each sheet in order of its production was still being followed. Thus, etchings might carry pencil "annotations" in their margins, such as "15/350" or "75/150". These are helpful nowadays in showing us exactly how many copies were originally made. But, near the mid Twenties, this practice was abandoned.
Blindstamps: These were embossed logos of either the artist or distributor that were pressed into the lower margins of the rag sheet much the same way notary seals are now used. The most common in earlier works is the EM Seal of the "Estampe Moderne", an art distributor in Paris who handled some of the best graphic artists of the day. Their stable included Maurice Milliere, Louis Icart, Georges Grellet, and William Ablett. After about 1925, Icart obtained his own copyrights and started distributing most of his works directly. Thereafter, we therefore see his well-known "Windmill seal", which is really a printing press in profile. Once the New York Graphic Society started handling Icart's pictures in the 1930's, we see their fancy crest-shaped logo on his etchings as well. In addition, some distributors ink-stamped their logos into the lower margins; the "SZL" of Sydney Zoltan Lucas in New York being a common example.
Copyright Notations: In order to protect their images from forgery or the pilfering of its exact content, artists and their distributors started copyrighting Boudoir Artworks in the early Twenties. This was a standard practice for the "Estampe Moderne", Louis Icart himself, and other companies, such as "Camilla Lucas", the art publishing branch of Sydney Z. Lucas' big New York wholesalehouse. Many times, these notations have been Godsends in helping to correctly place specific works in an exact chronology.
DISTRIBUTION & SALE:
Distribution: For most Boudoir Artists, distribution was simply a matter of letting an art warehouse middleman the works to smaller galleries around the world. The Estampe Modern in Paris was very helpful in this regard to most fledgling engravers. Their web of contacts was vast. Only Louis Icart had the clout and business savvy to "go it alone" and begin to distribute his own etchings from the late Twenties onward. Of course, there were still many levels of middlemen. The final step being the local art gallery or large department store that sold directly to the customer.
Mounting: There was never a concept among most customers and art galleries that Boudoir Art was "museum quality" art. Therefore, it was framed in the "usual manner" for an average citizen's home. Consequently, mats and cardboard sheets were not acid free! And since sheets of paper do not naturally hang flat in a frame, Boudoir etchings were mounted directly to sheets of cheap composition, or cardboard. We are rarely lucky enough to find "loose sheets". The vast majority were "dry mounted", a process whereby hide glue is applied to the back of the artwork and used to glue it flat to a piece of cardboard! This was accepted in its day. But sadly served to put the paper in direct contact for decades with acid impurities that stained it and caused the now common "foxing" spots seen on many old pictures. When we open the frame of an old Boudoir piece, we will usually discover that it's glued directly to the front surface of the backing board! Obviously, this impending catastrophe needs to be remedied by cleaning and restoration.
Mats: Mats are pieces of cardboard with cut out openings, or windows, in the center to frame and "show" the artwork. They are also used to space the artsheet off the underside of the glass so that it doesn't "burn" in the sunlight or grow molds in the damp. In the Teens, simple buff mats were used. In the Twenties and Thirties, the favored mats for Boudoir Pieces were called "French mats". These had fine watercolor lines painted around the circumference of the mat's opening. Often a watercolor wash was added in a color that complimented the major hues in the artwork. Old gallery catalogs tell us that they'd make these mats for a "penny an inch". Since it is a rare framer who is still skilled in this exacting technique, reproduction French Mats cost from $50-$125 now, depending on size and complexity of the line patterns! But anyone who wishes to have the proper original "look" should consider these mats as essential. It is how most Boudoir Art originally left the shop!!!
Frames: In the earliest years of Boudoir, the Teens, frames were somewhat conservative plain wood of walnut or smooth black paint. Sometimes a burl wood, Art Nouveau design, or even Victorian style would filter through. But, mostly, the frames were reserved, while the pictures within them quite sassy!!! By the Twenties, everything had changed. Boudoir etchings were typically being framed in gold-wash moldings of 1 to 1 ½" width. There were some basic, often geometric, patterns pressed into the wood; but it was never gaudy or built up like the gaudy Old Victorian frames. In general, this period was a modern and streamlined time. It's a shame we are reframing a lot of its artwork in wide thick reproduction "Victorian" frames. One should strive to preserve the wisdom of the past!
Ravages on Time: Icart and other Boudoir artworks have survived over fifty years to come down into our possession. Most still remain in their original frames. It is a rare instance in which loose sheets, which were never originally sold, are still discovered. Therefore, the framed sheets of paper have endured many decades in the tight "pressure cookers" of their sealed frames. As such, they've been in direct contact with harsh cardboard sheets that contain acids which eventually stain, spot, and finally "burn through" their paper! The sooner we get them out of their original frames and restored, the better!
Losses: By the late Forties and Fifties, most Boudoir art was relegated to attics where paper hungry bugs such as silverfish feasted; and basements where flooding and damp allowed molds to rot them to powder. A high percentage of the original work produced is now gone forever.
Sheet size: Original rag sheets were 4-6 inches larger than the central printed image. The white edges are the "margins". It is here that we find the copyright notations, artist's signature, edition size annotations, and distributor's stamps. When originally framed, the galleries cut down the margins to manageable widths; most commonly 1 ½" to 2 inches. Therefore, on the modern market for Boudoir Style art, 1 ½" is considered an average width. Below this size, the value might decline.
Paper Condition: This factor is perhaps the GREATEST determinant of an etching or lithographs true value on the market. The appraiser evaluates exactly how close to original perfection the piece still is. Factors to consider:
- Brightness: Is the paper still fairly white; or toned to a buff or yellow; or worse yet, grey! While "patina" is great for metalworks, on paper art it often reflects the presence of soil, nicotine stains, or acids contamination.
- Scratches/Digs/Gouges: As expected, these mar the smooth surface. They can often be "colored in", or hidden, by a good Restorer in more complex visual areas; but they'll always be there to the trained eye. And if located upon a white or grey background, they can not be well masked. Consequently, they will lower price from 10-50%.
- Tears: Actual rips or tears through the sheet are the devastating to value. In the hands of the Conservateur, they can be joined and reinforced from behind with rag paper patches. Then, over-painted in the gutter between the edges. But no matter how good a job, their resulting value might still only be 25-50% at best. This is one prime reason why you MUST inspect all etchings out of their frames before buying!
- Waterstains: From sitting in basements, or under leaky ceilings. The waterline created is often sadly permanent and hard to wash out during restoration.
- Molds: Molds break down the integrity of paper fibers through secretion of enzymes! They like to eat Icarts!!!!
- Restoration: Of course, prior restoration on a piece will affect price. And sometimes modifications were made many years ago, such as when a prudish new owner had someone paint a dress over a Mademoiselle's bosom! Such is the case with this copy of "Tsar", where the original naked breast is now newly "clothed".
There are two basic types of paper used for artworks; "Rag" fiber based papers which are resilient in water and more durable over time. And wood "pulp" papers which crumble easily in water and become very brittle with time. Most newspapers and books after 1850 were made from cheap pulp paper and therefore brown and deteriorate over the years. And in the case of cheaper artworks, such as mass produced lithographs, pulp was used as well. However, almost all Boudoir etchings were done on fine quality "rag" papers. Often, these were produced by fine art supply manufacturers, such as B.F.K. Rives and Arches, and are watermarked as such. The tolerance of rag to immersion in water and other solutions allows it to be cleaned in chemical baths and later pressed dry by modern Conservators.
Cleaning: Immersion in specific chemical solutions can remove surface soiling, acid impurities found in foxing and "mat burn", and nicotine staining. The paper returns to a nearly bright white without losing the water-resistant inks of the basic image. However, the watercolor hand-applied accents, such as lips and jewelry, are typically washed away. These can easily be reapplied by the steady hand of the modern Restorer.
Pressing: Sheets are pressed as they dry; sometimes under gentle suction. Pieces with folds or unwanted creasing can be soaked and pressed to try to remove them.
Touch-ups: Areas of missing ink, scratches, or gouges can be touched up.
Patches: Chemically inert rice paper patches are applied with neutral glues to the rear of rips and tears. The facing edges are then filled, blended, and over-painted.
Backing: Weakened sheets can be reversibly bonded to acid free sheets of heavy paper for added support.
Lacquering: Occasionally, Boudoir Etchings were lacquered when finished to play upon the lighting and texture effects of mat or gloss sheens. Unfortunately, these coatings tend to yellow over the decades. Though not a cheap process, they can be safely removed and reapplied by the more knowledgeable paper craftsman.
As with EVERYTHING, price depends wholly on supply and demand. Neither are fully independent of one another.
Rarity: Obviously, the relative rarity of a piece determines it's price. For instance, everything else being equal, an Icart etching produced in a edition of 75 pieces would cost more than a similar piece that was printed to 300.
Supply: But also, one must consider what percentage of the works have survived. Nudes may have been tossed out by later prudish relatives at a higher rate than cute pictures of puppies! Just how much this factor has affected supply is learned from years of experience in the field.
Demand: No matter what the rarity or supply, a piece is worth nothing without a true demand by Collectors. There must be people willing to pay. And in regards to Boudoir Art, people tend to naturally gravitate to the same images which are most stunning and/or endearing in content and design. These works become the "tough" ones to get, or what we call "key pieces". They command more in spite of any thing else about them. It is not scientific. It's purely the "gut appeal" factor. But frankly, that's really what collecting art is all about!!! For instance, about 40 out of Icart's 500 etchings are considered "key", and their prices reflect this!
Dealers: None of the factors affecting price are created by dealers when the artworks are antique. The supply and demand are simply what they are. The market drives values to where they must be. The "dealer" is simply that fellow who knows all the facts. And with upwards of a thousand different Boudoir etchings on the market by various artists, that's no easy education to acquire. Especially when prices are never static!!!
BUILDING A COLLECTION:
Buy What You Like!: The wisest advice is always to buy what you like; preferably "love"! Market values can shift. People purchasing for purely investment in art might be sorely disappointed if the economy spins downward. Also, by thinking in dollars and cents, they rob the art of what it is: A medium for transmitting feelings and joy through visual images. Meaningful cues that connect our lives. Beauty, And to some extent, thought. Buying art should be a little like marriage: take only what you'd be happy living with for the rest of your life!!!
Don't Buy with Money You Need!: Never use money necessary to daily living or survival during retirement. Rather, use your "free", or "play money", to pursue these kinds of pleasures. In essence, ask yourself: "Is this money I can afford to take out of circulation for many years; maybe....forever....if I keep this art???"
Learn!: Study the current books and literature on the subject. Go to shows, galleries, and auctions to see as much as possible. Surf the Web! And.... ask, ask, ask!!!!
Don't Take Chances: Don't buy from people you don't know, or those who can not be easily tracked down again. People in this field know each other; they can give references and assurance. So just be wise. Buying "Icarts" out of the trunks of cars at flea markets might just lead to a great counterfeit collection!
Get Receipts & Guarantees: Of course, this all depends on being able to later find the person who gave these! THEREFORE..........................
Do Associate with a Reputable Dealer(s): Find a mentor. That is how we all learned! There are a good solid handful of Specialists in each and every field who know their craft far better than the scores of "generalist" antique and gallery shop owners. Under such a protective wing, your knowledge will soon soar and you'll own a fine Collection of reasonably bought, solid artworks.
THE "DAVID CHASE GALLERY" and OWNER, CLIFF CATANIA, WELCOME TO THE ADVENTURE OF COLLECTING!!!!
PMB 263, 590 Centerville Road, Lancaster, PA 17601
(610) 308- 1756