From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The process of printing a lithograph on a hard, flat surface. Invented by Bavarian author Alois Senefelder in 1796. Originally the printing surface was a flat piece of stone that was etched with acid to form a surface that would selectively transfer ink to the paper; the stone has now been replaced, in general, with a metal plate.
As a printing technology, lithography is different from intaglio printing (gravure), wherein a plate is either engraved, etched, or stippled to score cavities to contain the printing ink; and woodblock printing, and letterpress printing, wherein ink is applied to the raised surfaces of letters or images. Most types of books of high-volume text are printed with offset lithography, the most common form of printing technology. The word lithography also denotes photolithography.
Senefelder had experimented during the early 19th century with multicolor lithography; in his 1819 book, he predicted that the process would eventually be perfected and used to reproduce paintings. Multi-color printing was introduced by a new process developed by Godefroy Engelmann (France) in 1837 known as chromolithography. A separate stone was used for each color, and a print went through the press separately for each stone. The main challenge was to keep the images aligned (in register). This method lent itself to images consisting of large areas of flat color, and resulted in the characteristic poster designs of this period.
Lithography as an artistic medium
During the first years of the nineteenth century, lithography made only a limited impact on printmaking, mainly because technical difficulties remained to be overcome. Germany was the main centre of production during this period. Godefroy Engelmann, who moved his press from Mulhouse to Paris in 1816, largely succeeded in resolving the technical problems, and in the 1820s lithography was taken up by artists such as Delacroix and Géricault. London also became a centre, and some of Géricault's prints were in fact produced there. Goya in Bordeaux produced his last series of prints in lithography - The Bulls of Bordeaux of 1828. By the mid-century the initial enthusiasm had somewhat died down in both countries, although lithography continued to gain ground in commercial applications, which included the great prints of Daumier, published in newspapers. Rodolphe Bresdin and Jean-Francois Millet also continued to practice the medium in France, and Adolf Menzel in Germany.
In 1862 the publisher Cadart tried to launch a portfolio of lithographs by various artists which flopped, but included several superb prints by Manet. The revival began in the 1870s, especially in France with artists such as Odilon Redon, Henri Fantin-Latour and Degas producing much of their work in this way. The need for strictly limited editions to maintain the price had now been realized, and the medium become more accepted.
In the 1890s colour lithography became enormously popular with French artists, Toulouse-Lautrec most notably of all, and by 1900 the medium in both colour and monotone was an accepted part of printmaking, although France and the US have used it more than other countries
During the twentieth century, a group of celebrated artists, including Calder, Chagall, Dufy, Léger, Matisse, Miró, and Picasso, rediscovered the largely unexplored art form of lithography thanks to the Mourlot Studios, also known as Atelier Mourlot, a Parisian printshop founded in 1852 by the Mourlot family. The Atelier Mourlot originally specialized in the printing of wallpaper, but was transformed when the founder‘s grandson, Fernand Mourlot, invited a number of 20th-century artists to explore the complexities of fine art printing. Fernand encouraged the painters to work directly on lithographic stones in order to create original artworks that could then be executed under the direction of master printers in small editions. The combination of modern artist and master printer gave rise to unique and visually striking lithographs, which were used as posters to promote the artists’ work.
Grant Wood, George Bellows, Alphonse Mucha, Max Kahn, Pablo Picasso, Eleanor Coen, Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Susan Dorothea White and Robert Rauschenberg are a few of the artists who have produced most of their prints in the medium. M.C. Escher is considered a master in lithography, and many of his prints were created using this process. More than other printmaking techniques, printmakers in lithography still largely depend on access to a good printer, and the development of the medium has been greatly influenced by when and where these have been established. See the List of Printmakers for more practitioners.
As a special form of lithography, the Serilith process is sometimes used. Serilith are mixed media original prints created in a process where an artist uses the lithograph and serigraph process. The separations for both processes are hand drawn by the artist. The serilith technique is used primarily to create fine art limited print editions.
- Block printing
- Color printing
- History of graphic design
- Letterpress printing
- Stencil lithography
- Lithography using MeV ions - Proton beam writing
- Theodore Regensteiner inventor of the four-color lithographic press
- German inventors and discoverers