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Louis Icart Etchings – Authenticity
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The price of an etching by Icart, to a degree, depends on its condition. Paper, under the best of conditions, will degrade with time. Under the worst conditions, it will disintegrate. Think of a newspaper left in the sun for a week, or paper you have found in a damp basement or attic. The paper yellows, becomes brittle, fades and can hardly be handled without damage. What about etchings by Icart that have been framed, and hung in a house for 70 or so years?
To begin with, Icart etchings were fairly common, and could be purchased at good department stores. They were meant to be hung and displayed. The framing styles of the 1920s dictated narrow frames possibly without mattes. The glass was wavy float glass. The backing materials were likely cardboard, and to make sure there were no wrinkles in the paper, the etching could have been glued to the cardboard. Here are some things that can happen to a work of art framed in the above manner
1 – Trimmed sheet – Icart etchings were printed on rectangular paper (sheet) that was substantially larger than the image. The part of the sheet between the plate mark and the edge of the paper is called the margin. This margin was probably at least 3″ on most etchings, and may have been as wide as 12″. The side and bottom margins were not necessarily the same width. Because of the narrow frames, the sheets were often trimmed such that a width about equal to the signature was kept surrounding the image. Oval images were put in oval frames and the sheets were trimmed accordingly. The margins served as the matte.
Part of the value of an antique is its completeness. If the sheet is trimmed, there is something missing from the original work, and the value is decreased. There is nothing that can be done to restore the trimmed paper, but dealers can make it difficult for you to know if the work is trimmed by selling the work already framed and matted. By doing this, the lack of a margin is covered up. Make sure you ask what the sheet size is and if the sheet has been trimmed.
Amazingly, darkening of the paper can be reversed. This is because the cause of the damage is due to a breakdown in the molecular bonding of the cellulose in the paper. The bonding and flexibility of the paper can be restored by soaking the paper in water, and the yellowing can be removed by bleaching the paper. Bleaching can be done by treating the paper when wet in UV light (the exact thing that causes damage if done dry), or with chemicals. If you want your etching to be white, have it treated with bleach. The final product will be white and beautiful, but will not be like the original. An etching restored by light bleaching will likely not look “brand” new like the white that comes with chemical bleaching, but the paper was never supposed to be an nice clean white. Also, have you ever gotten bleach on your hands and noticed how long, despite all the washing you do, that your hands still smell like bleach. Just think if your skin was porous like paper how hard it would be to remove the bleach. If bleach remains in the paper, it will continue to react with the paper.
2 – The size of the image must be very close (within 1/4″) of that given in a catalogue de raisonne. That is because all of the etchings of an image were printed from the same plate, and thus have to be the same size. There can be shrinkage or expansion due to humidity and the amount of water in the paper.
3 – An embossed seal or blind stamp is an impression in the paper, generally in the lower left outside the image. The stamp was pressed into the paper to make an impression that would act as a proof of authenticity for the etching. These blind stamps were placed on works that were designated for sale in the US. There is nothing about an embossing stamp that can’t be reproduced. You can buy an embossing seal made to your specifications. The more care that goes into making a reproduction the better it will be. Fortunately, the reproduction or facsimile blind stamps on new Icart prints, are different enough such that with careful inspection, you can tell the difference. Icart used two main blind stamps on his works. The seal of Estampe Modern, appears on many etchings from the early 1920s. Often this blind stamp is quite weak and difficult to see. The more common seal is that of the Icart windmill. This is often strong and is the one for which copies exist.
Blind stamps were not part of the printing process. The seal was added after the printing was complete and will not appear in exactly the same place in all etchings from the same run. The blind stamp will be in the lower left corner, and usually does not extend into the image.
Click on thumbnail to see enlarged image.
4 – Copyright and Publisher’s Notation – Compare the copyright and publisher’s notation as given in a catalogue de raisonne with that on the print you are evaluating. The information should be in the position stated in the catalogue de raisonne, and should read the same. If a fake was made by copying an original, these two pieces of information will of course be correct.
Below are some examples of these notations. The value of the etching to a degree in depends on show strong and clear these notations are, and there is considerable variation.
5 – Plate mark – An etching or engraving is printed by pressing a thin copper plate which contains the inked image into the paper. To transfer the ink, the plate has to be pressed with quite a bit of pressure. When this is done, the plate itself actually is pressed into the paper and what results is an outline of the plate. Since Icart used thin plates, both the top and bottom edges of the plate can be visible in the paper. Unlike a blind stamp, the plate mark is created during the printing process, and has to be there if the work is an etching as opposed to a reproduction lithographic print. However, just like a blind stamp, a plate mark can be added after the printing process. All one has to do with a modern reproduction, is take a metal plate or block that is uniformily larger than the image and press it into the paper. A “plate mark” will be created. Usually, people producing reproductions from lithographic prints don’t go to this much trouble to confuse the buyer. However, look for a double plate mark that shows the top and bottom of the plate. If a thick plate is used, only the bottom edge of the plate will show, not the top.
6 – Paper – To me, the most indicative aspect that one can use to judge the authenticity of an Icart etching is the paper. Icart used good quality wove paper. Wove paper is paper made using a certain manufacturing process. It may have been made by BFK RIVES or ROBBE, but what distinguihes it from paper used in common reproductions is its texture. Wove papers themselves vary in texture, from heavy to light, just as good stationary paper will vary, but a wove paper is more open (like a wood grain) and not glossy, compared to modern lithographic or common poster papers. If you look at the higher magnification images above, you will get some idea as to the difference between the paper Icart used, and papers used in reproductions. A manufacturer’s watermark may be visible by holding the sheet of paper, out of the frame, into the light. This watermark may be a full water mark, or may be partial, depending on whether the sheet has been trimmed. When you look on eBay at the higher magnification signature and blind stamps, always look at the paper. The new reproduction prints are not done on good quality paper and you can see the difference.
7 – Signature – Icart’s signature varies with time being more loose and variable in his earlier works and more rote and constrained in the later works. I have given examples of signatures from early to late, up to Summer Music, which was published in 1953, three years after his death. The signature is usually in crayon, not pencil, and you can tell the difference if you use magnification. I show examples of crayon and pencil signed works. Use these examples to guide your evaluation of a signature. I have also provided some examples of signatures that appear on bookplates and modern reproductions. The style of a signature is not the end-all of determining the authenticity of a work, but in combination with the other information provided above all fits together. If you find a signature that appears to differ from the norm, and the plate mark and paper appear odd, then perhaps the work isn’t authentic.
Remember, Icart almost never signed works from book plates. I have shown a typical bookplate signature that is common on works sold at high end or traveling auctions, eBay auctions, and several “auctions” on Live Auctioneers. These signed bookplates may come with gallery certificates. Be careful, the work may be authentic, but the signature may have been added later. You have to answer the question “if the print is authentic and the signature was added later, is the entire piece authentic?”
Recently, a dealer has started stamping the signature on book plates, and then on the back of the paper stamping a statement to the effect that the stamped signature was added for verification. Of course, the the book plate is sold framed, you can’t see the back. Just remember, except for a very few cases, Icart book plate etchings or lithographs were not signed.
8 – Actual Fake Etchings – To produce a fake etching, one would have to create a new plate and copy Icart’s work onto the plate. This is not an easy task, and would hardly seem worth the effort given the good documentation of Icart’s existing works. However, known fakes exist. Most common are Dollar, Gust of Wind, and Louise. Below, I show below an actual fake of Illusion. This was printed on good quality Arches paper, although the paper is too course for the etching. The size is correct within acceptable tolerances and it is printed on a full sheet of paper. On close inspection, there are several flaws that become obvious. If you compare the details of the face and the hair with the actual etching, you can see the differences. The real give away is the watermark. As shown, the watermark is ARCHES (infinity). ARCHES (infinity) paper wasn’t manufactured until after 1980. Also, there is no copyright and no blindstamp. While the blindstamp isn’t a requirement, it would be unlikely the an authentic etching would be missing the copyright. This etching would easily fool buyers on eBay, and would sell for thousands of dollars.
Below I also show the details for the fake “Gust of Wind” etching. In this case, the etching is printed on a full sheet, but there is no watermark and the paper is not a high quality paper like Arches or Rives. You can tell this by carefully looking at the “weave” in the paper. Also, look at the blind stamp and signature. They are both incorrect. Finally if you look at the details of the etching, especially the sugaring, the crispness and detail is lacking. This etching would easily fool an auction house and it would be sold as an authentic Icart etching.
There is also a very good fake for the etching “Dollar.” I show images below. The main way to tell the difference by examining the paper. The authentic dollar is on a high quality paper like Arches or Rives. The fake is on a lesser quality paper. By examination, if you look at the eyes, you will see the right eye is rolled up compared to the left. This is the most telling example.