CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

Editions in Art Explained

While art is typically considered a single, original work, that is not always the case. Some artists create multiple versions of their work, and each, while nearly identical, is its own unique work. This grouping of works is called an edition, and they are often enthusiastically acquired alongside one-of-a-kind artworks by savvy art collectors. Read on to learn more about editions in art and how artists use them.

 

What is an Art Edition?

An edition is a reproduction of an original image, designed as a group or multiples and produced under its original artist. Bronze castings, photographs, prints, etchings, lithographs and other works on paper are some of the most common types of works in editions. Because each piece in an edition is produced separately, each is unique. While editions are produced as a set, each is treated as an original artwork because each is created individually by an artist, making them a special case in the art market.
 

Open vs. Limited Editions

The number of pieces in an edition can vary greatly, and it is usually up to the artist to decide how many versions they wish to produce. There are typically two approaches to editioning: limited edition and open edition.
 
Limited edition is fairly self-explanatory. An artist will set a predetermined number of reproductions that they wish to create, and once that number is reached, they will stop. For instance, this bronze casting of Liberty Enlightening the World is an example of a piece that comes from a limited edition. As seen in the image below, the sculpture is numbered 8/8, representing that it is the last cast in that edition.
 
As a general rule, the fewer numbers in an edition, the higher their worth. However, the value of a number in a limited edition can vary from medium to medium. For bronzes and etchings, the earlier in the edition, the higher the value. For instance, an artwork numbered 6/35 would typically be worth more than one numbered 34/35. Photography is quite the opposite. As they are sold, the price of the remaining prints rises, therefore later edition numbers typically sell for more.
 
Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, Liberty Enlightening the World, conceived in 1878, cast in 2010 M.S. Rau
 

Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, Liberty Enlightening the World, conceived in 1878, cast in 2010 M.S. Rau

 
Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, Liberty Enlightening the World, conceived in 1878, cast in 2010
M.S. Rau
 
An open edition, on the other hand, does not have a set number of versions, meaning there can be unlimited prints or versions created. Open editions are advantageous for artists who want to make their works more accessible, as they are typically more affordable and allow the artist to respond to fluctuations in demand quickly. One artist who famously worked in open edition was George Bellows. Later in his career, the established American painter worked with lithography, installing a lithography press in his studio. His experimentations with lithography allowed for the widespread proliferation of his images, which became incredibly popular with the American public. Prints of his boxing images were amongst the most famous. For instance, his Introducing the Champion of 1912 was printed in a magazine, from which it was popularized and spread en masse. Because this image was not created as a limited edition, it was possible for numerous versions to be made. Today, these prints are held in important museum collections across the country.
 
George Bellows, Introducing the Champion Black crayon, India ink and collage on paper Completed in 1912 M.S. Rau
 
George Bellows, Introducing the Champion
Black crayon, India ink and collage on paper
Completed in 1912
M.S. Rau
 

George Bellows, Introducing the Champion Lithograph, No.54 Circa 1916 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

 
 George Bellows, Introducing the Champion
Lithograph, No.54
Circa 1916
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
 

Edition vs. Reproduction

It is important to reiterate that an edition is not a copy in the conventional sense. Rather, they are sets of unique pieces created after an original work, which function together with the original work. On the other hand, a reproduction is a copy, usually produced in a different medium than the usual work and typically does not involve the original artist. Reproductions are often done digitally and can be made strictly for commercial purposes. One of the most familiar examples of reproductions is the poster, which uses digital technology to recreate a famous scene or image. These works are not included in the artist’s edition and are merely copies.
 
For instance, the popular Be@rbrick toys often include images from famous artworks. While this use of images is a reproduction, it does not count as an edition because the original artist did not sanction it, nor is it in the same medium.
 

Medicom Toy Inc., Be@rbrick, Andy Warhol’s ‘Marilyn Monroe’

 
Medicom Toy Inc., Be@rbrick, Andy Warhol’s ‘Marilyn Monroe’
 

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, Museum of Modern Art, New York

 
Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, Museum of Modern Art, New York
 

Editions Across Media

Etchings

Etchings are perhaps one of the most common types of editioning in art. This print-making process involves incising a metal plate with an image. These incised areas hold the ink, which, once applied, can be transferred onto another surface, leaving the image behind. Etchings were one of the first techniques for replicating images, dating to the 16 century. Although he is most famously remembered as a painter, Rembrandt van Rijn was also a career printmaker. Throughout his career, he produced over three hundred etchings, which are still around today. This highly-detailed religious work recounts a biblical tale in which Joseph, son of Jacob, tells his brothers about his prophetic dreams.
 

 Rembrandt van Rijn, Joseph Telling his Dreams, circa 1641, M.S. Rau

 
Rembrandt van Rijn, Joseph Telling his Dreams, circa 1641, M.S. Rau
 

Woodblock Prints

Another common type of editioning in art is the woodblock printing technique. This technique involves drawing onto a thin type of paper, which is then glued to a plank of wood. The image is then chiseled into wood, leaving the outlines of the image in a “stamp.” Ink can then be applied to the wood block, and multiples of the image are able to be created. The woodblock printing technique began as a way to spread texts, but it was widely adopted in Japan during the Edo period as an art form. More advanced printmakers could produce incredibly intricate, multi-colored prints, called ukiyo-e. The widely popular Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai is one such Edo woodblock print. From a series of thirty-six prints, this image has spread and grown in popularity throughout the ages.

 

 Katsushika Hokusai, from Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

 

Katsushika Hokusai, from Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

 
Katsushika Hokusai, from Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
 

Photographs

Photographs are another medium commonly printed in editions. Because the same negative can be reused many times, photographers often produce multiples of one photograph. For instance, director and author Lawrence Schiller famously photographed a series of Marilyn Monroe, and he printed each image in limited editions of 75. This image of Marilyn by the pool is numbered 19 of 75, and it comprises a larger set of other iconic photographs of the actress.
 

 Lawrence Schiller, Marilyn Monroe Photographed in Blue Robe, 19/75 M.S. Rau

 
Lawrence Schiller, Marilyn Monroe Photographed in Blue Robe, 19/75
M.S. Rau
 

Bronzes

Bronzes are particularly apt for editioning, as these sculptures are created from a series of molds. Using a “lost wax” technique, the artist pours molten bronze into their mold, which cools and forms into a sculpture. This technique was often repeated, and thus, bronzes sometimes come in editions. For instance, this delicate ballerina bronze by Edgar Degas was cast posthumously after the original molds were rediscovered. It is marked “Degas / 6|G / 1998 / CIRE C.VALSUANI PERDUE”, thus indicating it is an edition after Degas’ original.
  Edgar Degas, Fourth Position Front, on the Left Leg, original wax model executed 1885-1890, bronze cast 1998 M.S. Rau
 

Edgar Degas, Fourth Position Front, on the Left Leg, original wax model executed 1885-1890, bronze cast 1998 M.S. Rau

 
Edgar Degas, Fourth Position Front, on the Left Leg, original wax model executed 1885-1890, bronze cast 1998
M.S. Rau
 
To view other fine art editions or original paintings, visit our website.

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