Drawings on Stone

In 1813, the first book about Lithography in English was published under the title "The Art of Making Drawings on Stone." Invented in 1798 by Senefelder in Munich, the lithograph rapidly spread throughout Europe (especially Germany, France and England) becoming a major medium of print reproduction and fine art. Although copper engravings had been in existence since 1440 (first used to print playing cards and to reproduce the famous drawings of Durer and later mastered by Rembrandt), lithography offered fine artists a level of refinement and control unlike any other print medium, causing Redon to describe it as "an art which obeys the subtlest breath of sensitivity" (mezzotint and aquatint provided etching with increased tonal quality but without the ease and level of artistic control seen in lithography). 

The incomparable artistic quality of the lithograph is a function of its unique chemical properties which in turn dictates the ease with which artists can directly interact with the stone. With a smoothness that is comparable to a sheet of glass, artists can paint, draw, scrape, wash and erase images on the stone using familiar implements, such as pencil, crayon, scraper, cloth or brush with great precision. By using chemical differences between oil and water rather than physical properties that are used in etching or woodcut to transfer ink from stone to paper, lithography has a fidelity that lends itself to an infinite range of tone, shade and subtlety. This technical superiority made it the perfect mode of high quality print reproduction, a function for which it was in high demand, reproducing famous drawings and paintings at relatively low cost for private consumption (initially it was used to print sheet music and leaflets).

The advantages of lithography were quickly recognized among artists and is what attracted them to the medium, especially in France, where it became popular among famous French painters, including Ingres and David. It was Gericault, however,  (followed by Delacroix) whose rejection of the dogma of the academy led him to explore the artistic innovations of lithography in the print workshop of Nicolas Charlet in Paris. His innovations, which at first were technical (subtleties of shade and tone) later included a variation on subject matter and execution that mirrored the concerns and interests of a rapidly changing urban society.

Nowhere, however, would the concerns of the metropolis and city life be echoed than in the innovative lithographs of Honore Daumier. Producing over 4000 lithographs, his critique of society through his lively and innovative black and white images, in some of the most radical weekly newspapers of his day (such as Le Charivari) were a visionary chronicling of his time. Numerous superb examples of his lithography (including an amusing and delightful look at married life and the aristocratic pass time of hunting and fishing), printed as fine art lithographs of the same original image size are included in this exhibit.

The artistic height of early black and white lithography was also seen with major innovations by the great Spanish painter Francisco Goya, whose fascination with the lithography was realized at the advanced age of 79. Having left his home land, deaf and partially blind, his Bulls of Bordeaux series created in 1825, as a meditation on the beloved bull fight of Spain, was the crowning achievement of his brief albeit important period of printmaking. With flowing character, innovative shading and use of light to capture emotion and drama, it was unparalleled for the time and impressive even by todays standards. He placed the lithographic stone upright on his easel like a canvas, placing human figure and animal on the stone with rapid speed. Vintage high quality lithographs (now 50 years old) of his Bulls of Bordeaux series are included in the exhibit.