|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
Stone Prints Or Lithographs
When Aloys Senefelder, struggling playwright and musician, scribbled his mother's wash list on a piece of limestone flooring, common around Munich, using chalk he made of lamp black, wax and soap, he began the art of lithography. For as he was about to wash the list off, he impulsively covered it with a paper, pressed it, and lifting it, found the list printed onto his paper. So, at least, one story goes.
For years he had hunted a cheap way to print his music and plays. Copper plates were expensive. Engraving and rubbing down his single copper plate for each page was work. Now he wrote his music backward on the stone with greasy chalk and etched around it with aquafortis which left the notes standing in relief. He inked them. They printed and impressed themselves on the paper. He soon learned the design did not need to stand in relief, but only to be drawn with grease.
Then he learned to write his music on paper, using greasy ink made from grinding up his greasy chalk. He pressed this greasy design onto the stone. The stone absorbed the grease pattern and reprinted it on paper, as many copies as he wanted, so the art of lithography matured. It was a modern 19th century art which made prints as beautiful in tones and textures as mezzotints.
Lithography Printed Music, Calico, and Art Compositions
Germany's first interest in lithography was 'to print music and calico (India print) expensive to import. Then nobility took up Senefelder and Baron Aretin formed a partnership with him. They reproduced Durer's Maximilian prints and other Old Masters from the art galleries. They developed special lithographing paper and used three qualities of stone-yellow, very porous, for coarse work; blue, less porous, for medium; and gray, hard and close grained for fine work. Famous artists got interested in designing for lithographic prints. The rage for this new kind of easy-to-make yet really lovely printed picture spread.
England's artists took up Senefelder's discovery, honored him with a gold medal, and put out a book of "Polyautographic" prints with designs by Benjamin West, T. Stothard, J. Barry, and others. Blake and Bewick tried the art. Baron Taylor, taking artists to France, began his Voyages Picturesque. Wilkie drew his Tour of the East compositions, Lewis his Spain and the Orient, and Roberts his Holy Land series. C. H. Shannon composed his fine designs and Charles Conders his faint and delightful patterns.
Spain's Goya immortalized himself and the bull ring with his many studies of it, including his The Bull Fight. And Belgium's Felician Rops made his Lace Expert with its many textures.
France Was Lithographic Print Enthusiast
France took lithography to her heart and through its beautiful textures and tones introduced her churches, streets and villages, flowers and armies to the world. General Baron Lejeune's Cossack is called the first cheap folio of military prints. A. Raffet made his unforgettable Il Grognaient Mais Le Suivaient Toujours, and T. Charlet his Tireurs De La Compagnie Infernale with its powerful white line work. Gericault drew his Boxers, Delacroix his Lion de 1'Atlas, and E. Isabey his marines for his own pleasure, and his French villages for Baron Taylor's scenic folio.
Lithographing went into somewhat of an eclipse with the invention of photography. But the rich textural and tone beauty of lithography caused Adolph Von Menzel to use it for his Frederick the Great's Army, and other sketches. Edouard Manet brushed and lithographed his rich black and white Femme. And Fantin La'tour made his wonderful Roses, and his Symphony with its marvelously placed tones and textures.
The century turned and World War I produced Abel Favre's vital On Les Aura, and J. L. Forain's The Letter with its simple powerful lines that tighten a knot in your throat. The French made stone writing and printing a great art.
American Artists in Lithographic Prints
Winslow Homer sketched his Civil war for prints. And James McNeill Whistler, working first on stone, later on paper, made masterpieces with lithographic chalk which at first could not be given away and were hauled off for waste paper, but are now as precious as his etchings. Among his lithographic compositions, his portrait of his friend, Joseph Pennell, shows how cleverly Whistler used his lithographic chalk to enrich the background under the ink.
Joseph Pennell sketched Devon and Cornwall and made his wonderful studies of the Panama Canal. Frank Brangwyn designed his first World War poster and George W. Bellows painted his A Stag At Sharkeys.
Today the prints of Nathaniel Currier, and Currier and Ives, designed to put inexpensive prints in the homes of the people, are in great vogue. The works of artists, such as Trumbull's Surrender of Cornwallis, and George Innes' View On The Delaware, were favorites.
Arthur F. Tait's Arguing The Point, Life On The Prairie, and the Last War Whoop are famous; so are George Durrie's Home For Thanksgiving, and The Old Homestead In Winter. Louis Maurer's Celebrated Horse Lexington, Thomas Worth's caricatures and his racing prints, and John Cameron's and Scott Leighton's horses and races are also collected.
Sarony & Major put out Naval Prints from the Mexican War, Sutter's Mill And The Culloma Valley, and many others. Sarony studied in France and pioneered in color lithography. Other lithographing companies include Endicott & Company, The Kelloggs, Haskell & Allen, Whitfield & Smith Brothers, Ruger & Stone, and Fowler & Mayer.
These lithographing companies printed pictures of American cities, rivers, falls, and mountains, ships and trains, Western adventure, hunting, animal and bird life, farm life, the wars, and the famous women of the theatre. The prints were made on posters, sheet music and greeting cards, and as pictures to be framed for the home.
How Lithographs Were Made
Lithographs were drawn by greasy chalk on stone, zinc, or, more rarely, aluminum plates, or the composition was brushed on with oily ink made from lithographic chalk. The stone or plate absorbed the oil, then a wash of acid and gum arabic sealed the design in and filled the other pores of the stone (or plate) so it would take no more oil.
The stone was next washed with water. Greasy ink was then rolled on. It stuck only to the greasy design. The water on the rest of the stone repelled the ink.
A paper was laid on the stone and the press run. The inked design printed onto the paper. As many prints could be made as wanted, re-inking when necessary. For color prints a stone was needed for each color.
To get background, the stone or plate was grained by rolling sand or other substance between the stones or by similar means. Sometimes the artist got background by marking his plate, then working up his composition, or he used textured paper. T. Charlet in his Tireurs De La Compagnie Infernale covered the whole stone with black ink then scraped it off where he wanted white tones and lines.
In wood cuts, metal engravings and etchings, the artist has to draw his design, work it up and print it before he sees if he has attained the effect he visioned. In lithography, he can see the full power of each line, dot, and light, dark, or gray area as he draws. He works constantly for interesting textures and rich tones. With simple, lithographic chalk, ink, and stone he produces some of the loveliest prints in the whole art world.