Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lithographic prints

In previous blogs, I talked about two types of original prints, relief prints and intaglio prints. Today I'll talk about the third major type of original print, planographic prints.

Whereas a relief print has its image printed from a raised surface, and an intaglio print has its image printed from a recessed image, a planographic print has its image printed from a flat surface. Because the matrix is not physically modified to hold the ink, the process depends upon a chemical reaction. For antique prints, the only planographic original prints are lithographs.

A lithograph is created by drawing an image onto a stone (lithography = “stone-drawing”) or metal plate using a grease crayon or a greasy ink called tusche. The process is based on the principle that grease and water do not mix. To create a lithograph, the stone or plate is washed with water--which is repelled by the crayon--and then with ink--which is absorbed by the crayon. The image is printed onto the paper from the stone or plate, which can be re-inked many times without wear.

As the process is planographic, no platemark is created when a lithograph is printed. While zinc plates were used late in the nineteenth century, most antique lithographs are printed from Bavarian limestone (other types of limestone were tried, but that from Bavaria works the best). The tuche holds to the stone in a pattern that follows the grain of the stone, so an examination of a lithographic image under magnification shows that stone grain (this is the way one can distinguish an original lithograph from a collotype, which is a planographic process but shows the pattern of the photographic gelatin used to create the image).

Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in 1798 but didn’t come into general use until the 1820s. After that time lithography quickly replaced intaglio processes for most illustrative and commercial applications, for the design was easier to apply to the stone or plate, it was much easier to rework or correct a design, and many more images could be produced without loss of quality than in any of the intaglio processes.

Most lithographs are printed with a black or sepia ink, and many were issued that are hand colored. A tinted lithograph is a lithograph whose image is printed from one stone and which has wash color for tinting applied from one or two other stones. Sometimes, hand highlight color is added to a tinted lithograph. A chromolithograph is a colored lithograph, with at least three colors, in which each color is printed from a separate stone and where the image is composed from those colors. I'll post a blog specifically on chromolithographs in the near future.

19 comments:

  1. We've been doing Lithographs for quite a while now at our business - www.ashfieldsp.co.uk - but I had no idea it dated back so far! Funny how we think it was invented last century...just glad we don't have to use a stone ;)
    Marc

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  2. I just came across a great site full of vintage 20th century lithographic posters with good descriptions:

    www.fiaf.org/laboutique

    They're also for sale, apparently, maybe I will buy a Picasso as a Christmas gift...

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  3. I have a framed (6"),circular (3 and 1/2") colored print of Gothe (with an umlaut "o"). It is identical to the portrait of Goethe in his later years. Without opening the back, how do I determine if it is a chromolithograph or a print? The frame is wood covered in black embossed paper with some corner damage, and the backing is heavily damage paper over compressed paper. Suggestions?

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  4. Adding to the above anonymous posting. The picture is a copy of the 1811 portrait by Louise Seidler. The glass in the frame has air bubbles predating modern glass.

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  5. Need help I have a limestone and it has good ink on it but I would like to find someone who can print this out for me. My family had a newpaper shop in the 1860 and we have boxes of limestones I would like to get a few printed.

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  6. I am sorry, but we deal only with antique prints. We know nothing about who does this sort of printing.

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  7. I have two possibly three chromolithographics
    from Germany brought here in the 1880's. One is the Modanna, by Von Piekar, another is the Holy Family Nativity. The third is the Good Samaritan. That one has raised metal for the horses reins and other raised areas. I can't seem to find out any thing about them.

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  8. I have a Currier & Ives metal plate used to produce prints. It appears to be a Christmas scene. Can anyone tell me how to find out more about it?

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  9. As explained in the post above, Currier & Ives prints were not made from plates, but rather from lithographic stones. Your plate is a decorative item that was done so people could frame it and enjoy it. It is, simply put, an unusual form of C&I reproduction...the firm is so popular that a number of items like this have been made over the years.

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  10. I have a hand coloured print of Mr Blanchard as Pantaloon by G Skelt dated 1905, I would be interested in finding out more about this item and possibly passing it on to a collector

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  11. I have a series of prints dated 1840 from Captain Cornwallis Harris. They are a series of six "Game and Wild Animals of Southern Africa" How do I know if they are authentic?

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    1. You have to look at the process. These should be hand colored lithographs. Also, the page size should be about 14 1/2 x 21

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    2. Hi.. thank you for your site. I found it very informative. I have a conundrum. I am new to prints.

      I recently purchased a book called La Vie Moderne from Jan-Jun 1884. In the book there is a full page illustration by Renoir and at the bottom it states.

      La Danse - Original Crayon par P A Renoir.

      I have been doing much review and I found that at that time many Journal publishers used a practice called Gillotage which is a zinc process for many of their newspaper article. How can I tell by examination if the illustration is a Gillotage , photo-gillotage, or an original lithograph.

      From my little 30x magnifying glass. I do not see any dot matrix patterns. The lines look solid and looks crayon in textures.

      Any in-sight or advice will be appreciated. I can hopefully lay the matter to rest.
      Thanks again

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    3. We do not deal with Renoir prints ourselves, but as far as I am aware, all of Renoir's images in La Vie Moderne were done by Gillotage, the variation of this method which used a photomechanical process. As such, you would not see dot matrix patterns. I am pretty sure that is what your print is, but as I said, we are not Renoir specialists.

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    4. Thank you for your review and insights!

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  12. I have a copy of a Francis Wheaton print and was told it was a photo-gillotage, perhaps? It is embossed on the right hand corner with "Copyright" dated "1906" and the name of the print shop "Jas. Tyroler, New York". Could you please give me any details and if this is a photo-gillotage? Thank you!

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    1. We are not familiar with this print, so cannot really tell you if it is a photo-gillotage or not. That process was developed in 1850 by Firmin Gillot. It was a process by with an lithographic image was transferred to a zinc plate (by photography) and then the plate was etched with acid to create a relief copy of the image (the lithograph is planographic).

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  13. Hello, I have found a lithograph stone in immaculate shape along with wooden print blocs - would you please tell me where I can take it to see exactly where it was made and who possibly made it

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  14. There is no single place which specializes in such things. Your best start is to take it to a local institution which has a good collection of lithographs.

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