The doyen of printmaking, Henri Beraldi, commented in 1891 that ‘the Renaissance of lithography seems to be in the air.’
For decades, lithography had been used primarily to produce large runs of reproductions and advertisements, eventually earning printmakers a bad reputation.
This gradually changed over the course of the 1870s and 80s thanks to the efforts of artists like Henri Fantin-Latour and Odilon Redon.
The popularity of the technique reached its apex in the fin de siècle, when the latest generation of artists discovered colour lithography.
An expressive medium
Critics like Roger Marx championed the artistic value of lithography, citing the medium’s kinship with drawing.
The leading art historian Léonce Bénédite commented that ‘lithography is simply a drawing with the good fortune that it can be reproduced in an unlimited number of copies.’
Artists could draw straight onto the flat stone, preserving their original intentions and direct expression.
Although artists were supposed to be closely involved in the creative process from design to lithograph, the labour-intensive technique was really only possible through the expertise of a professional printer.
This required a good working relationship — one that the artist Odilon Redon went so far as to call a kind of marriage.
Both parties played a key role in the process. They complemented each other, but also had to avoid encroaching on the other’s territory.
Several publishing houses worked especially for artists, including Ancourt, Lemercier (where the master printer Auguste Clot was employed for many years), Duchatel and Verneau.
Edouard Duchatel, Léonce Bénédite, Traité de lithographie artistique, Paris 1893
Henri Bouchot, La lithographie, Paris 1895
Pat Gilmour (red.), Lasting impressions. Lithography as Art, Philadelphia 1988
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