As a gallery that specialises in the great print suites of the 20th century, we know a thing or two about fantastic but affordable prints.
Thanks to the master French and British ateliers of the last 100 years, many of the world’s greatest artists have produced series of works, often at the very height of their artistic powers, which we can now buy and own at minute fractions of the cost of an original oil painting.
In this article we highlight 6 of our very favourite print suites, in a variety of artistic styles, that you can pick up individual prints from for under £1000 – check them out below.
‘Jeremiah’s Lamentations’ – ‘Bible Series’ lithograph
1. Marc Chagall – The Bible Series
The Russian-born painter and printmaker Marc Chagall (1887-1985) now has a deserved reputation as one of the 20th century’s best-loved artists.
A prolific artist, his work frequently drew on imagery from Russian folklore and memories of a Jewish childhood.
In 1930 Ambroise Vollard, the famed Paris art dealer, commissioned Chagall to produce a series of illustrations based upon Bible stories. Religious iconography and biblical tales had remained a continual source of imagery throughout Chagall’s life; here those elements were brought to the fore.
Chagall travelled to Palestine in search of inspiration, but the project was a lengthy one, interrupted by Vollard’s sudden death in a car accident and the advent of World War II, and the series was not eventually completed until the early 1950s.
Writing on the reason for the series, Chagall revealed his love for the holy text: Ever since my earliest youth I have been fascinated by the Bible. I have always believed that it is the greatest source of poetry of all time…The Bible is an echo of nature, and this I have endeavoured to transmit.
The first lithographs, printed by the great French lithographers Mourlot Frères, were published in 1956. They were met with such critical praise that Chagall produced a further set, published in 1960. Today, they represent some of our most most sought-after prints.
Chagall’s Bible Suite lithographs start at just £350 and range to £950 >
‘Sexton Disguised as a Ghost’ – Hockney’s Brothers Grimm etchings
2. David Hockney – The Brothers Grimm Suite
David Hockney was born in Bradford in 1937. A brilliant draughtsman, he became the best-known British artist of his generation and had gained international success by his mid-20s.
Today, he is known widely as one of Britain’s most revered painters and printmakers, famous for his thick-rimmed spectacles and lilting Yorkshire accent.
Amongst his many notable print works, his etchings of the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm are perhaps his most celebrated.
Produced in 1969, the suite includes prints from six of the Grimm tales: The Little Sea Hare, Rapunzel, The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear, Fundevogel, Old Rinkrank, and Rumpelstilzchen.
Possessing their maker’s unmistakable wit and gentle sense of humour, these etchings established Hockney as a young master of the medium and remain iconic to this day.
While signed Grimm etchings sell upwards of £2000, unsigned edition prints can be found ranging between £350 and £950 >
‘Amusement Arcade’ – Ravilious’ ‘High Street’ lithographs
3. Eric Ravilious – High Street
Born in 1903, Eric Ravilious was one of Britain’s best-loved illustrators and graphic designers, as well as being an accomplished painter and printmaker in his own right.
In the 1920s he made his early reputation with wood-engravings, but by 1936 had started making lithographs and taking commissions for book illustration and jacket design whilst continuing to paint the southern English countryside.
High Street, a suite of 24 coloured lithographs, was commissioned in 1938 by the publishing arm of Country Life magazine.
Featuring a beautiful range of illustrations of high street shops (some, such as the ‘Submarine Engineers’, humorously fanciful), the lithographs were published as a playful children’s book introducing young people to the store fronts of British towns and cities.
Though not intended as a limited edition, the plates for Ravilious’ High Street lithographs were destroyed during the London Blitz, restricting the number produced to 2000 copies, making available prints relatively scarce.
Perfectly encapsulating the enchanting world of British illustration in the 1920s and ’30s, these lithographs are now highly collectable.
The High Street lithographs can be found here priced at £450 >
‘Femmes et Singes’ – Matisse’s ‘Last Works’
4. Henri Matisse – The Last Works
A giant of the art world, Henri Matisse was one of the most influential and celebrated artists of the 20th century.
Famous for producing work with bold, fluid colour, he is now best known for his papiers découpés paper cutouts (as seen in the 2014 Tate exhibition), huge collages made from pieces of paper that Matisse cut with scissors after major operations in the early 1940s left him unable to paint.
In 1954, the same year of Matisse’s death, it was decided that lithographs should be produced after the great last cutout works making these collages more widely available.
Reduced in size so that they could be hung on a wall at home, the suite, entitled The Last Works of Henri Matisse, proved to be immensely popular following his death and remains as highly sought after as ever.
These lithographs are available from as little as £250 and range up to £950 >
Alice and the Two Queens – Tenniel’s illustrations for Carroll’s Alice stories
5. Sir John Tenniel – Illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
Born in London in 1820, Sir John Tenniel was the principal political cartoonist for England’s Punch magazine for over 50 years.
Today, he is better known for having illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, widely considered to be his finest and most enduring achievement.
Tenniel originally drew his illustrations directly onto boxwood blocks, cut by master engravers. So fine were his lines, however, that the engravers feared the blocks would deteriorate before the full publishing run could be printed.
Instead, metal electrotype copies were made to withstand the greater numbers of printing runs, but at a loss of definition and tone.
But in 1985, the original wood blocks were rediscovered and a new print edition was organised: 250 copies would be printed from these original blocks, the very first time they had been used, after which no further sets would be commissioned.
Beautifully designed and exceptionally printed, these miniature illustrations must also rank among the world’s best-known children’s images.
Prints from the 1985 edition printed from the original blocks are available from Goldmark and range between £75 and £450 >
6. Fernand Léger – Cirque
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Fernand Léger made an enormous contribution to the world of modern art, influencing key movements such as Cubism and the use of the artist’s poster in advertising.
Léger was himself especially interested in the circus, and the themes of acrobatic performers, clowns and high-top performances feature heavily in his work, none more so than in the Cirque suite.
Léger began work on the series of lithographs after time spent in New York, returning to France in 1946 to start work translating his drawings and sketches into the full-blooded colour images of the suite.
Completed in 1950, just five years before Léger’s death, they embody the artist’s love of the circus’ theatre, its sights and sounds, characters and colours, and the bright glare of its spotlights.
Lithographs from Cirque vary in price, with many priced between £500 and £950 >