The relationship of a work created in multiples, such as a print, to other stages of the same work of art.




STATE refers to works of art created in multiples, particularly prints such as etchings printed from plates that are altered repeatedly. It may also refer to any sequence of related stages that together build toward the creation of a work of art. Each variation in the plate or stage of production is identified as a particular state.

"In the process of making a print an artist often prints a few PROOFS at different stages of his working to check progress. Any impression which shows additional working on the plate constitutes a 'state.' States are usually created by the printmaker himself; but later additions (such as the reworking of a plate at a later date) also create new states." [1] Positioning a print within the process of the development of an idea is an important consideration for the researcher.

Since works of art produced in multiples can vary slightly, identifying the state of a specific work makes it possible to distinguish it from other quite similar works.

While state is primarily associated with graphic works, some sculptures have terms associated with them that refer to their state, such as artist's proof.

STATE can be expressed as a ratio of the state of the object to the number of known states. This should be combined with the name of the person who identified the total number of states, and the date of the publication in which the schema of possible states was delineated. Different authors may enumerate a varying number of possible states of a work, and alternate sequences of these states.

Unnumbered states also exist; these usually date from the time before a print was in circulation or before a work was completed. These are identified by specialized terms such as artist's proofs and bon à tiré proofs.

The identification of the state of a work may require the expertise of a connoisseur if a published catalogue raisonné does not exist. The enumeration of states is often speculative, as not all states of a work may be known or described.


Much of the literature on printmaking has focused on the identification of the various states of an artist's graphic works. Unless an inscription exists on the object, identifying it, for example, as an épreuve d'essai, may be difficult; secondary sources or other works must be consulted to identify a specific state. Prepublication states such as working proofs often have inscriptions that identify their purpose.


If a work has been reissued, in whole or in part, at a later date, this should be indicated in the category EDITION, as should the total number of works printed or produced, and the position of the object within the production run.

Different versions of a work, such as copies after a work, recreations, replicas, or reproductions of it, are not considered states and should be recorded in RELATED WORKS. This includes the following examples: 1/4-scale version, 1/2 or half-scale version, full-scale version, small version, version A. If the block, plate, or negative that a work was printed from is known to exist, it should be recorded in RELATED WORKS. If STATE is determined on the basis of comparison with another work, the latter should be noted in RELATED WORKS.

The state of a work can often provide clues to its dating. The date a work was made should be specified in the subcategory CREATION - DATE.

Object component parts, lots, or collections, such as tea sets, or nests of baskets, are not covered in the subcategory. See OBJECT/WORK - COMPONENTS.

If a work is not in its original state or condition, this should be indicated in the category CONDITION/EXAMINATION HISTORY.


Knowing the state of a work helps the art historian identify it. It also places the work in the creative process, as various states of a print or bronze show differing stages in the development of an idea. Comparing different states of a work can illustrate the development of its various versions. Once a work has been positioned within the creative process, it can be dated with more accuracy and evaluated with more certainty.

State - Identification


The identifying number or name assigned to the state of a work that exists in more than one form.


2nd state
hors commerce
final state
bon à tiré
artist's proof
proof before letters
experimental proof
progressive proof
printer's proof
Robison (1986) i/iii [2]
Bartsch 171-II (129), variant of state I [3]
Adhémar 54.X [4]
Reed and Shapiro 52.XV-XVIH [5]


A work's state may be expressed as a ratio: the state to which this work belongs out of the number of known states (e.g., 2nd of 5 states). It may also be identified by a descriptive phrase, such as final state or print before letters.

When more than one study of an artist's oeuvre exists, or there is disagreement about the number of states of a particular work in existence, the identification of the state should also include the name of the author of the catalogue raisonné used to identify the state, and the date it was published; Adhémar 54.X [6] and Reed and Shapiro 52.XV-XVIH [7] actually refer to the same state.


The state of a work of art helps to identify it and distinguish it from other similar works.


A descriptive statement about state is usually sufficient for researchers. If the STATE is to be accessible, the information in the statement should be indexed.

State - Remarks


Any comments or notes about the identification of the state of a work or its place within an established sequence. These may include a quotation from or summary of a source or a justification of the state specified.

State - Citations


A reference to a bibliographic source or unpublished document that provides the identification of the state of the work.



1 Paul Goldman, Looking at Prints, Drawings and Watercolours, A Guide to Technical Terms (London and Malibu: The British Museum in association with the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1988), pp. 54-55.

2 Andrew Robison, Piranesi: Early Architectural Fantasies: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Etchings (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1986).

3 Agostino Carracci, The Coat of Arms of Cardinal Franciotti, in Italian Masters of the Sixteenth Century, ed. Diane De Grazia Bohlin, The Illustrated Bartsch, vol. 39 (formerly vol. 18, part 1), (New York: Abaris Books, 1980), p. 212. Note: Roman numeral indicates state; Arabic numerals in parentheses indicate page number in the original edition.

4 Jean Adhémar and François Cachin, Degas: The Complete Etchings, Lithographs and Monotypes, tr. Jane Brenton (New York: Viking Press, 1974); French ed.: Edgar Degas: gravures et monotypes (Paris: Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1973).

5 Sue Welsh Reed and Barbara Stern Shapiro et al., Edgar Degas: The Painter as Printmaker (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1989).

6 Jean Adhémar and François Cachin, Degas: The Complete Etchings, Lithographs and Monotypes, tr. Jane Brenton (New York: Viking Press, 1974); French ed.: Edgar Degas: gravures et monotypes (Paris: Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1973).

7 Sue Welsh Reed and Barbara Stern Shapiro et al., Edgar Degas: The Painter as Printmaker (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1989).