Déjeuners Lithograph, 1962

Introduction to Picasso lithographs

As well as making use of etchings and aquatints, Picasso also created many lithographs in his lifetime. Lithography differs from etching and engraving in that it is a comparatively flat, or planographic, process. In this sense rather than relying on the curvature of the printmaking surface, it makes use of the chemical repulsion between grease and water to transfer the hand applied image onto paper. Dating back to the 19th century, this traditional method allows for exact reproductions made to the artist’s original blueprint, which is able to capture all the subtlety and nuance, of painterly lines, and even pencil tone.


Tips to check for lithographic authenticity

Is the paper good quality?

The paper will always be good quality and certainly never glossy.

What’s the story?

There may be details such as an edition number and of the printing method. It may also be signed. Lithographs which meet some of these requirements often fetch higher values.

Also watch out for the letters AP which signify you have an artist’s proof, which is also likely more valuable as it is rarer.

La Guerre at la Paix Lithograph, 1954

How else is value determined?

This depends on whether:

  1. The lithograph is in good condition
  2. The artist has a good reputation
  3. The quality of drawing is good

Works which can be assessed positively in so far as these factors are concerned correlate positively with higher value.

Greater value can also be attributed to work which is listed in a catalogue of the artists lithographic work (Bloch in Picasso’s case). As well as those with a history of ownership.


Picasso’s signature

It’s always been normal that works with a signature are worth more money. Back in the 50s and 60s Picasso started signing a series of etchings called The Vollard Suite. He’d actually made these in the 30s but, aware that his signature increased value, he added this as an afterthought, as a way of increasing contributions for left-wing political causes he championed. Of course not all additions artists make to their work to heighten value are done so for charity.

Picassos with a signature are typically worth around twice those without. In other cases, the difference may be more or less extreme. For example, Marc Chagall’s series of Daphne and Chloe prints are valued at ten times the price of those which are not, even though the latter is still an original.

Pablo Picasso Original Etching Le Portraitise

Pablo Picasso Original Etching Le Portraitise

Picasso numbered prints

Numbering is a practice beginning in the late nineteenth century. The habit was instigated by publishers. When followed each print in the edition of a certain amount are given their own number.

At the start of the twentieth century numbered prints did not include the total number in the edition, for example 1/100. However by 1915 the practice of including the total number of copies was standard practice.

Regardless of this there are always additional prints which fall outside those included in the numbered edition. These include: artist’s proofs (AP or épreuve d’artiste, or E.A.), printer’s proofs (PP), trial proofs, and a bon à tirer (BAT) or good to print. Some prints are even H.C. (hors commerce or not to sell) or marked N.F.S (not for sale).

AP or Artist’s Proof

  • The purpose of an artist’s proof is to check the result produced by the printmaking process, when the work is in development.
  • Commonly they are numbered with Roman numerals.
  • The amount of artist’s proofs would not be expected to exceed 10% of the edition total.
  • Collectors may prefer artist’s proofs to the main edition because of their rarity, which can reflected in prices.


Comparison with other printing methods

Methods including lithography, etching, linocut and aquatint all require different techniques to produce the finished print. What they do have in common however is that they’re more affordable than paintings or drawings by an artist, but still provide the chance to own something exceedingly rare, as there are very limited numbers of each print.

Pablo Picasso Original Aquatint: Two Painters and Reclining Nude Outdoors

Pablo Picasso Original Aquatint: Two Painters and Reclining Nude Outdoors

Price top ten most expensive prints

  1. Pablo Picasso: “La Femme Qui Pleure I” (1937) $5,122,500
  2. Henri Matisse: “Océanie, La Mer” (1946-47) $4,774,500
  3. Pablo Picasso: “La Suite Vollard” (1930-37) $3,603,410
  4. Pablo Picasso: “Le Repas Frugal” (1904) $3,052,400
  5. Edvard Munch: “Young Woman on the Beach” (1896) $2,794,610
  6. Andy Warhol: “Mao” (set of 10 from 1972) $2,544,800
  7. Pablo Picasso: “La femme qui pleure I” (1937) $2,200,000
  8. Edvard Munch: “Vampire II” (1895–1902) $2,182,800
  9. Andy Warhol: “Marilyn Monroe” (1967) $2,050,000
  10. Pablo Picasso: “La Minotauromachie” (1935) $1,980,400

(Note: these records are taken from lists as of 2013 but they should give you a good idea of how much prints at the top end can cost.)