"Portfolio Prints" by Klimt and Schiele: A Collector's Advisory

Many collectors are confused about what distinguishes an original print from a reproduction. This confusion is exacerbated by the fact that some contemporary artists incorporate mechanical and digital techniques in their work, blurring the boundaries between “originals” and commercially manufactured reproductions.


When dealing with artists who, like Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, lived before World War II, the issues would appear to be more straightforward. According to traditional connoisseurship, a work is considered an original print if (a) the artist created the image with the intention of reproducing it in one of the traditional printmaking mediums (etching, lithography, woodcut, silkscreen, etc.), and (b) the artist was personally involved with the creation of the master (plate, stone, block, etc.) and supervised the printing process. Ideally, the artist should personally approve the final result by signing each individual impression.


A reproduction, on the other hand, is a printed facsimile of a work originally created in another medium (a painting, watercolor or drawing) produced mechanically by a professional printer, rather than by the artist. Reproductions produced during an artist’s lifetime may be sanctioned by the artist, but this is not comparable to the intimate involvement and approval that an artist exercises with regard to the creation of an original print.


Gustav Klimt created no original prints. Egon Schiele created a total of 17 original prints, all of which are catalogued in Jane Kallir’s book Egon Schiele: The Complete Works (New York, 1990 & 1998). Both during and after Klimt’s and Schiele’s lifetimes, various portfolios were published containing reproductions of art by each of the artists. Although some of these portfolios are very beautiful, until recently they had mainly antiquarian value. That is to say, they appealed principally to collectors and dealers of rare books, and like rare books, the portfolios had value only if they were completely intact.


Lately, however, a number of dealers have begun breaking up Klimt and Schiele portfolios to sell the sheets singly. From an antiquarian perspective, this destroys the value of the original portfolio. Moreover, collectors can be misled if the individual sheets are described as “prints” rather than as “reproductions.” Unscrupulous dealers play on the ambiguity that exists with regard to the word “print” and exaggerate the artist’s involvement in the creation of the lifetime portfolios. Dealers have been known to ask over $50,000 apiece for what are, in essence, old commercially produced reproductions.


It is impossible to know whether single sheets from early Klimt and Schiele portfolios have any long-term value. As a result of competition among dealers seeking to break up and sell the portfolios' contents, auction prices for complete sets, which used to sell for a few thousand dollars, have skyrocketed. Recently, single sheets from the portfolios have also been sold auction (at houses such as Swann in New York and the Dorotheum in Vienna), suggesting that a legitimate resale market for at least some of these reproductions is developing. On the other hand, early Klimt and Schiele reproductions are no better—and sometimes worse—in quality than present-day reproductions of the same or similar works, which sell for around $20 to $50. Original prints by Schiele (most of which are posthumous and therefore not signed) sell for roughly $5,000 to $50,000. Original drawings by Klimt start at around $25,000.


Portfolios Containing Reproductions of Work by Gustav Klimt

Published 1908-1946 [all posthumous except the first]


Das Werk Gustav Klimts. 50 heliogravure and collotype reproductions (10 in color and gold; 40 in black and white) of oil paintings printed by the k. u. k. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei. Published in several installments: Verlag Laufbahn, Vienna, 1908; Verlag H. O. Miethke, Vienna, 1914; Hugo Heller, Leipzig and Vienna, 1914-18 (with introductory text by Hermann Bahr und Peter Altenberg). Klimt designed identifying signets for each of the paintings in this portfolio and supervised its production.


Gustav Klimt. 25 Handzeichnungen. 25 reproductions of drawings, some in color, from the collection of Erich Lederer, published by Gilhofer und Ranschburg, Vienna, 1919, in an edition of 500 copies.


Gustav Klimt. 10 Handzeichnungen. 10 heliogravure reproductions of drawings with an introductory text by Gustav Glück, published by Rikola Verlag, Vienna,1922.


Gustav Klimt. 50 Handzeichnungen. 50 reproductions of drawings with an introductory text by Hermann Bahr, published by Thyrsos Verlag, Leipzig and Vienna,1922.


Gustav Klimt. Eine Nachlese. 30 heliogravure reproductions of oil paintings with an introductory text by text by Max Eisler, published by Österreichische Staatsdruckerei, Vienna, 1931, in an edition of 500 numbered copies. English edition: Gustav Klimt, An Aftermath (translated by B. W. Tucker). French edition: Gustave Klimt. Dernière Gerbe (translated by H. Bonnoront).


Gustav Klimt. Eine Nachlese (2nd Printing). 30 heliogravure reproductions of oil paintings (same as the above) with an introductory text by Benno Fleischmann, published by Franz Deuticke Verlag, Vienna,1946.


Portfolios Containing Reproductions of Work by Egon Schiele

Published 1917-1920 [all posthumous except the first]


Zeichnungen—Egon Schiele: Zwölf Blätter in Originalgrösse. Facsimile Reproductions of 12 drawings and watercolors, published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Richard Lanyi, Vienna, 1917, in an edition of 400 copies plus 30-35 proofs. Each numbered and signed by Schiele in the collophon.


Egon Schiele: Fünf Zeichnungen. Reproductions of 5 erotic watercolors, published anonymously, circa 1920.


Egon Schiele Handzeichnungen. Reproductions of __ drawings and watercolors, published Verlag Eduard Strache, Vienna, Prague and Leipzig, 1920, in a numbered edition of 500 copies, plus a deluxe edition of 10 copies each containing an original Schiele drawing.