In the second half of the 19th century, the avant-garde jointly rediscovered printmaking. In 1897, French artist Camille Pissarro wrote: ‘At the moment prints are the exclusive interest here, it is a mania, the young artists no longer do anything else’.
Artists created series of prints and magazine illustrations, book covers and posters, both for collectors and for the masses on the streets: in fin-de-siècle Paris, prints were everywhere.
Artists experimented with various printing techniques, of which each had different qualities. Etching was seen as the most artistic and expressive technique. Working on a soft ground layer, the artist was able to work quickly and freely. However, some artists used traditional wood engraving to give their work a primitive, rudimentary character. Many artists also experimented with colour lithography. The resulting decorative and colourful prints have come to represent the cultural era of the fin de siècle in our imagination.
The young artists opposed the academic division between the ‘high art’ of painting and ‘low art’ of printmaking. Up until the mid-19th century, printmaking was often merely a means of reproducing a painting as precisely as possible. Artists were now drawing their designs directly on the plate or stone. The result was both modern and artistic. Thanks to the edition of multiple copies, prints were accessible to a large number of people, in contrast to paintings.