Collecting Sports Prints by The Masters

Did you know Rembrandt made a 1654 etching showing a golfer? Did you know that the 1800s painter Homer Winslow helped make a woodcut print of a football game, or that you can purchase an Andy Warhol limited edition screen print of Wayne Gretzky signed by both Warhol and Gretzky?

Fine art isn’t just for museums these days. Increasingly, sports collectors are purchasing original sports themed prints by famous artists. MastroNet, Robert Edward Auctions, Leland’s and other big sports auction houses have offered prints by Warhol, Salvador Dali, Rembrandt, Roy Lichtenstein and Leroy Neiman.

For beginner collectors concerned with authenticity, the fine arts can be intimidating and overwelming. As in all areas of collecting, there are fakes, forgeries and reprints. In fact, fine art prints were being forged long before baseball was a sport. As one collector said to me when inquiring about a Salvador Dali print he had purchased years earlier, “Not only do I have no idea if this is authentic, I have no idea how to find out if it’s authentic.”

Happily, there are reference books and websites that the collector can use to help judge the authenticity of a print for sale and learn the specifics about the work.

Catalogues Raisonne

For sellers and buyers of prints by a famous artist, a catalogue raisonne (plural: catalogues raisonne) is an essential information resource. Catalogues raisonne are large illustrated books used by Sotheby's, Christies, museums and advanced collectors to help identify and authenticate prints. They are also a great starting point for the beginning collector, offering an illustrated survey and description of the artist's work.

A catalogue raisonne is a book or series of books covering a specific area of an artist's work (paintings, sculpture, prints, other). They are researched and produced by the top experts in the field, including professors, museums curators and gallery owners. They are often assisted or otherwise approved by the artist or artist's estate.

While catalogues raisonne vary in quality, a good one will be extensively illustrated and give most of the essentials of the artist's original prints. These essentials can include dimensions of a print, type of printing used (etching, engraving, other), number of prints, editions, how a print is signed and numbered, watermarks, the type of paper used, and so on. A catalogue often includes helpful biographical and artistic information, such as describing the printing techniques and styles, and details known fakes and unauthorized reprints. Some catalogues are so lavishly and colorfully illustrated, they are worth the price simply as picture books for the coffee table.

The essentialness of a catalogue raisonne is that it lists what prints are recognized as genuine works by the artist. While there will be some legitimate uncataloged prints, most collectors should stick to what is catalogued. If a print for sale is not listed and detailed in the catalogue raisonne or called genuine by other substantive source (expert opinion, authoritative article), the average collector should not buy.

If the least that collectors of the world did was to determine if a print is listed as authentic in the catalogue raisonne and that the bare basics (size, signature, numbering, etc) matches the catalogue listing, the sale of forgeries and fakes would be reduced by over 90 percent.

Obtaining a particular artist's catalogue can be difficult. While catalogues by some artist's can be bought on eBay and popular bookstores like and Barnes and Noble, they are often expensive. Some are extremely difficult to find and a few may not be in English! I own a Picasso catalogue raisonne written in French with German translation and I know neither language.

For the hard-to-find catalogues raisonne, the collector should look high and low. This includes looking at used bookstores, libraries and asking around. Some galleries or dealers have libraries and will let collectors reference them.

With reputable auctioneers and dealers who specialize is expensive fine art, the auction description will typically detail that a print is officially "listed" as genuine by listing the catalogue's title, author and the catalogue number and/or page number for the print. Even if the collector does not have access to the particular catalogue, he will at least know that the print is listed in a catalogue raisonne.

The following are free online catalogues raisonne and related websites for famous artists:

Leroy Neiman:
This is Neiman’s official site, maintained by his publisher, and contains the complete illustrated catalogue raisonne. It includes commentary for collectors written by the artist.

Andy Warhol:
Warhol made numerous popular paintings and prints of athletes, including Mahammad Ali, Gretzky, Eric Heiden and European hockey players. Barry Halper owned a Warhol Pete Rose that is pictured in the 1999 Sotheby’s/Halper catalog. This website is maintained by a prominent art gallery that published many of Warhol’s original prints. The information is officially approved as accurate by Warhol’s estate.

Pablo Picasso:

Salvador Dali:
Dali is one of the most forged of all artists, and the collector of his work has to be particularly careful. This site is the publisher of the official Dali catalogue raisonne (not online). The collector can pay for Dali Archive’s opinion on a Dali print or painting. Based in New York City, the private company is regarded as one of the top Dali experts in the world. An LOA from the company or their deceased founder, Albert Field, is considered significant. Salvador Dali hand-picked Field to be the cataloguer of his artwork.

2001 Screen Print of Sandy Koufax by Leroy Neiman

1985 Screen Print of Pete Rose by Andy Warhol

1957 Lithograph of Bull Fight by Pablo Picasso

1654 Etching of a Golfer by Rembrandt

1865 Woodcut Print of Football Game from a Sketch by Homer Winslow

By Dave Cycleback
Art Historian