by Luc Bertrand
Andy Warhol’s Dollar Sign Serigraph. Credit: Photographer unidentified.
Continuing the examination of the print market, I turn to the print dealers in France following the previous blog Overview of the Print Market. The identified trends, drawn from auction sale data, will be complemented by synthesizing the comments and views of print dealers.
I will first outline the landscape and challenges of print dealers in France. Then I will present several initiatives by professionals and institutions working to increase the awareness about fine art prints.
How are prints sold worldwide?
A brief overview of print sales worldwide will help determine how many print dealers there are and which specialties are most represented. The Syndicale Chamber of Print Dealers (CSEDT) lists around fifty European print dealers. The International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) has 150 international members. As a comparison, there are more than 2,200 contemporary art galleries in France alone. Clearly, the print sector is relatively small compared to the global art market.
The Syndicale Chamber of Print Dealers
Founded in 1919 as a professional union, the Syndicale Chamber of Print, Drawing, and Painting (CSEDT) is purposed to defend the interests of dealers and print professionals. In recent years, the CSEDT has developed a charter for defining “original” prints, creating the necessary conditions of trust for this market. Furthermore, the CSEDT is committed to developing the sector, for instance by organizing the Paris Print Fair.
However, not all galleries are members of professional associations, and there are many entities that sell prints on the primary market without having prints as their specialty. These include sellers and publishers of contemporary prints who distribute prints alongside unique works.
What do Dealers Sell?
Of the 150 IFPDA members, 24 sell ancient art, 77 sell modern art, and 106 contemporary art. This distribution faithfully follows the global art market. The IFPDA has a separate “Japanese prints” category, perhaps in a desire to develop this segment known to attract young collectors.
Sale Channels for Prints
Among the preferred sales channels for galleries, physical sales are still the most represented, especially in the ancient print market, where the public expresses the need to see the works in person and maintain relationships with the prescribing gallery owner.
While costly, some wealthier dealers participate in art fairs.. These include the IFPDA Print Fair in New York, the London Print Fair, and the Paris Print Fair. The Paris Print Fair’s second edition took place in March 2023, during the Drawing Week in Paris. The Paris Print Fair hosts 20 international galleries, offering a wide variety of prints from the 15th century to the present day. The fair aims to be the most eclectic in Europe and has gotten excellent media coverage and several thousand entries over the four days of the 2023 edition.
Paris Print Fair 2023 (Credit: INU Studio)
Online Sales Shows Spectacular Growth
Beyond physical presence, auction houses and print galleries have gradually invested in the online channel, following the digitalization of commercial exchanges and new purchasing behaviors. According to a study of classic African arts, 72% of collectors made an online art purchase in 2022 without viewing the artwork before buying (for works under €5,000).1 Such a study does not exist for the print market.
In France, the oldest and most experienced online print galleries are Le Coin des Arts, Galerie Michelle Champetier, and Place des arts (founded in 1997). They all sell worldwide and help make print collecting accessible. Galleries unable to develop an e-commerce website sell their works via platforms like Amorosart or Artprice. Finally, eBay remains a major exchange platform for works under €500.
Dealers Show Pessimism Amid Signs of Hope
In 2013, Claire Gauzente, professor of economics and management in Nantes, interviewed about thirty professionals in contemporary print, including several gallery owners. Her study highlighted the following paradox: most dealers feel pessimistic, while print demand is growing at auctions, and institutions are promoting the medium. Some gallery owners believe there is no print market in France, and dealers struggle to renew their clientele and stay afloat – although there have been no bankruptcies in the last decade.
As part of the causes underlying this paradox, print is a challenging medium because print techniques are difficult to identify by collectors. Prints have affinities with rare books and drawings, which sometimes are a detriment, prints being perceived as less important than drawings or confused with them. Furthermore, prints are clearly subordinate to painting, as shown by the major difference in auction results. Finally, photography, which has boomed since the 1980s, will often compete with prints among collectors.
Other obstacles identified are the need to educate customers about printmaking techniques (How is an etching made? What does numbering mean?), and issues related to originality (Is a print a reproduction? Does it have value as an original work?)
Print Dealers Energize the Sector
However, there is significant dynamism from print professionals, who defend this medium and work to promote it to the public by organizing and participating in fairs and exhibitions. I had the opportunity to interview two print gallery owners at the Paris Print Fair 2023. We discussed their activities, their vision of the print market, and how they contribute to the valuation of the medium.
Le Coin des Arts
I dedicated a portrait2 (in French) to Thaddée Poliakoff and his gallery Le Coin des Arts, which works daily to promote modern prints. Mr. Poliakoff has worked to “push the walls” of one of the smallest galleries in Paris, by opening a second space in the Marais and an online sales website. He seeks to sell at the right price, and elitism has no place in his gallery. The stated goal is to make prints accessible to the widest audience, using the reach of the digital sale channel.
Thaddée Poliakoff Adjusts the Display at the Paris Print Fair (Credit: INU Studio)
Galerie Christian Collin
Christian Collin set up his specialized gallery in 2005, chaired the trade union for print dealers (CSEDT) since 2017, and participated in the creation of the Paris Print Fair in 2019. He is therefore well-placed to take the pulse of the market. Collin considers that the market has stabilized, and that the number of collectors and dealers is not increasing. He too observes the difficulties for gallery owners in growing their clientele, in a context of competition with auction houses that regularly organize specialized sales.
Collin warns about the lack of expertise of certain dealers not affiliated with professional associations, which should encourage the informed collector to carefully select their sources. Another difficulty is sourcing pieces, especially regarding ancient prints, where the quantity of available works is dwindling. He predicts that stability will persist, which, according to him, protects the print sector from the mercantile excesses of the contemporary art market.
Prints: A Lesson in Humility
As we have seen, the print sector is relatively small, with 150 galleries affiliated with the international print dealers association. Some French dealers, along with other sector professionals, lack optimism, observing a stagnant market with few new entrants among collectors or dealers. They report several obstacles, primarily the subordination of prints to painting and their competition with photography. Furthermore, the intricacies of printmaking and the concept of an “original” work, which requires an understanding of editioning, calls for public education.
Nevertheless, we see that the sector is invigorated by dealers who have not lost hope. Some shift their traditional operations to the internet, while others unite to organize events centered on print sales or mediation. Even though print trade is “an exercise in humility,” according to Christian Collin, there are reasons to be optimistic about the circulation of prints.
- Bertrand, Luc. Interviews with Thaddée Poliakoff and Christian Collin at the Paris Print Fair 2023.
- Chicha-Castex, Céline. « Entretien avec Christian Collin, marchand d’estampes et président de Chambre syndicale de l’estampe, du dessin et du tableau (CSEDT) ». Nouvelles de l’estampe, nᵒ 268, 268, Novembre 2022.
- Gauzente, Claire. « Valeur(s) de l’estampe contemporaine en France ». Nouvelles de l’estampe, nᵒ 261, 261, Janvier 2018, pp. 80‑92.
- Poulard, Frédéric. « Marchands d’estampes à Paris : statuts et jugement esthétique: » Ethnologie française, vol. Vol. 35, nᵒ 1, Mars 2005, pp. 73‑80.
With over a decade of exposure to the print market, Luc Bertrand started his journey as an assistant in a postwar print gallery. Currently, he is dedicating a full year to writing a thesis on the overlooked yet promising market for prints. In 2014, he created the French digital publication Le Guide de l’estampe, to share knowledge of prints with new collectors.
In this article Luc Bertrand investigates the paradox within France’s print market, where dealers’ skepticism contrasts with a dynamic undercurrent of growth. He emphasizes the crucial role of digital platforms and industry collaboration in revitalizing a niche market.
- Adenike Cosgrove, State of the African Art Market Report, 2022. ↩︎
- https://lithographie-collection.com/thaddee-poliakoff-le-coin-des-arts ↩︎