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The saleroom is launching a print department with two auctions a year, starting with a May 24 sale titled 500 Years of Printmaking.

Sworders, of Stansted Mountfitchet, started holding Modern British art auctions last April, as part of a revamped sales schedule launched the year before, focusing on fortnightly rather than weekly sales.

“This is an exciting and timely departure for us as the new department will complement the significant strides we have been making in our Mod Brit sales over the past year,” says managing director Guy Schooling.

Curated by Shane Xu, who worked at Bloomsbury Auctions for a number of years, the sale will feature works by some of the greatest names of British print-making, such as Eric Gill, Elisabeth Frink, John Piper, Patrick Caulfield and Henry Moore, as well as masters of the art from other countries, including Dürer, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Goya, Picasso, Chagall, Miró, Matisse and Dalí.

Schooling adds: “Shane’s knowledge and expertise, as well as her fluent Chinese, knowledge of Japanese and proven track record of building up key client bases from scratch, promise to make our print sales a roaring success, as this first effort already shows.”

So far, several hundred lots have been consigned for the sale, and Xu is working on extending this.

International background

Xu, who first encountered Sworders in 2012 while working on Triple-A, the UK regional auctioneer initiative to attract Chinese buyers, has an international background as a financial analyst in the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company in Shanghai.

Her interest in art brought her to London where she completed a masters degree in event management before immersing herself in the art world, spending every Saturday of her first two years at Bloomsbury in the British Library, British Museum and prints studios studying prints and printmaking.

She has focused on building business in China, which has not had a tradition in printmaking. “China is an immature market in this sense,” Xu says. “It is all about educating people who at first could not understand why you would spend good money on what they saw, essentially, as a copy.”

She adds: “Having spent a great deal of time talking to interested collectors, I have found that people have gradually started buying. So far they have stuck to well-known blue-chip artists such as Chagall, Picasso and Dalí, while younger buyers – the majority of them bankers – are most keen on Banksy.

“When I worked at Bloomsbury, I was delighted to focus on Modern and Contemporary prints, with highlights of my time there including sourcing and selling Andy Warhol prints and some wonderful linocuts by Picasso.

Xu’s new role at Sworders allows her to extend that range to include the whole history of printmaking, which she finds “a very exciting prospect.

We will be working on ideas to explain the attraction of prints and printmaking techniques as part of that process”.