History of lthography part 1

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Posters have been around long before Guttenberg printed the first Bible in the mid 15th century. People have always tried to figure out the easiest way to communicate a message, and posters were an obvious evolution. The major difference between posters from the middle ages until the middle of the 19th century was the addition of eye catching graphics, transcending from black & white to color, and the ability to print in a larger format. It was these factors that changed it all.

There was that narrow band of time from the late 1880’s to 1939 when the technology and the art had the opportunity to be perfectly matched. The inventory of The Omnibus Gallery is filled with hundreds of the greatest graphic designs ever done. That is our strength. You will see many images that are rarely seen outside of books and museums.

It was America, in the mid-1800s, that started to create posters in brilliant colours and in large sizes. They were primarily woodcut prints for circuses. These posters were often crude artistic attempts trying to get peoples attention, but sometimes they were truly magnificent images. America was in the forefront of poster production, techniques, and size. But making a poster from a wood cut would prove inferior to stone lithography, yet these circus posters were the foundation for the printing of the modern graphic that gave us that fifty year period when printing was spectacular.

Lithography was invented in 1796 by Aloys Senefelder. The printing process is based on the concept that water and oil will not mix. The lithographer and or artist would usually draw on limestone with a greasy substance and then just before printing the printer would cover the stone with water. Then apply the oil based ink which would only stick where the grease had been applied. It’s a simple process but understanding the concept might require rereading this paragraph with your thinking cap on. Or just skip rereading because this information will not change your life.

The birth of color Lithography and the Modern poster took place in France under the tutelage and guidance of Jules Cheret in the 1860s. Cheret was the son of a typographer and he was the first to make colour lithography commercially viable. In the beginning, each color of the poster was drawn on a separate stone that sometimes required more than 15 stones to create the image. With time this process became simpler.

Artists etching their designs on the stone was unique to France. In other countries, trained lithographers did that work. It was Jules Cheret, who was both artist and lithographer, that started the trend in France. As he taught other artists how to design a poster he also showed them how to etch the stone. This was a time consuming process, often taking weeks, but it insured that the final product was what the artist had wanted and not what had evolved out of their control.

Before Cheret, most advertising was black and white and often just lettering with no image or lettering with a woodcut image. These early posters were considered an eyesore and were illegal. Therefore in the dead of night they were plastered on buildings and houses only to be pasted over by different ones the next night. They were literally littering the streets and pissing off the people’s whose property was being defaced. Eventually designated places where posters could legally be posted were established and a tax was collected and a tax stamp put on each poster.

Even with the advent of color lithography, it was not until the late 1880s when the quality of color printing became quite sophisticated that poster art ignited in France and spread throughout the world. As artists became interested in creating posters people loved, the images went from being an eyesore to the ‘art of the streets’. People began to collect posters and look out for their favorite artists. Besides Cheret, posters were embraced by such great artists as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, TH Steinlen, Pierre Bonnard, the Beggarstaffs, Alphonse Mucha, Will Bradley, Edward Penfield, etc.

Clearly, Toulouse-Lautrec was influenced by Cheret and Bonnard but he took poster art to a new level. Instead of bland, happy, beautiful faces and bodies he looked inside and saw the imperfections and pain. He was harsh in his vision while most posterists were more interested in the form than the soul of their figures. His were emotionally charged visions instead of cool, angelic, or breezy gaiety images of people.

In fact in the case of Lautrec no one has even attempted to emulate his style. Some of his techniques have been borrowed but the style never copied. On the other hand Cheret’s, Cappiello’s, & Mucha’s styles were greatly imitated.

The majority of this information courtesy of George at Omnibus Gallery

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