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Along with monotypy, lithography belongs to the group of flat printing techniques, but this is where their similarities seem to end. Lithography appeared in 1796 or 1798, thanks to Johann Alois Senefelder, a typographer from Munich. Initially, they took an imprint from a drawing on a stone slab, usually limestone, which gave the name for the method (ancient Greek λίθος "stone" + γράφω "I write, draw"). Nowadays, instead of lithographic stone, zinc or aluminum plates are used, which are easier to process.
Description of the lithography technique. To begin with, a stone need to be polished carefully to remove all the irregularities and traces of the previous drawings (careless polishing may reveal a "ghost" of the old print on the new print). A drawing is applied on the smooth surface of the stone with a bold lithographic pencil or oil-based ink. After that, the plate is rubbed with powdered rosin, and then with talcum powder.
Alphonse Mucha, Advertising Poster for the Tissue Paper Job (1896). The Pushkin State Museum of Fine

Alphonse Mucha, Advertising Poster for the Tissue Paper Job (1896). The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts

Next, gum arabic or its combination with a weak acid solution is applied to the stone. The very principle of lithography is based on the fact that water and oil do not mix. So the resin anchors the bold drawing with oil-based lithographic pencil, and the acid softens the exposed areas of the stone, which are to absorb water but repel the ink.

The original drawing is then washed off with a solvent, leaving a phantom trace of the image on the stone. The surface is poured with water, which is only absorbed in the areas treated with acid. On the moistened stone, a varnish-based printing ink is applied, it adheres to the non-etched parts of the stone in exact accordance with the pattern.

The stone is placed face up on a lithographic press, a moistened sheet of paper is placed on top. They are covered with a board called a deckle, and sometimes with several sheets of newsprint. This elastic layer ensures that the pressure of the pressure cylinder on the printing plate is well-balanced. The press is equipped with a clamping bar that provides smooth and uniform pressure on the stone surface.

Maurits Cornelis Escher. Balcony
1945, 29.7×23.4 cm
Lithography nuances. For the production of colour prints, separate matrices must be prepared for each intended colour. The sheet of paper is passed through a press several times to adding colours in succession. In this case, it is necessary to carefully monitor that the position of the stone clearly corresponds to the contours of the drawing.

Interesting facts about lithography. For more than 200 years, lithography hasn’t changed much, except that instead of heavy stones, aluminium or zinc plates are often used. The artist can do all the work himself (in this case, the engraving is called "author's lithography"), or just apply the drawing to the surface, and entrust the preparation of the plate and print to the printer. All works received in the process are considered originals, but the first one, which the author signs in the lower right corner, is of particular value. In the lower left corner, the serial number of the print and the number of printed copies are put down.
Honore Daumier. Gargantua
1831, 21.4×30.5 cm
Пабло Пикассо, 11 литографий из серии «Бык» (1945)
Пабло Пикассо, 11 литографий из серии «Бык» (1945)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Poster "Japanese sofa"
1893, 80.8×60.8 cm
Edward Munch. Madonna
1902, 60.5×44.5 cm
Vincent van Gogh. The potato eaters
April 1885, 26.5×32 cm
René Magritte. Force of habit
1960, 61×50 cm
Wassily Kandinsky. Small worlds 4
1922, 33.7×28.9 cm
Francisco Goya. Violence
Mikhail Larionov. Bather. Illustration from lithographed book by A. Kruchenykh "Lipstick"
1913, 11.5×5.3 cm
Edgar Degas. Standing naked over the toilet, the figure from the back
David Hockney. Self-portrait
1954, 29×26 cm
Vivid examples of lithographs. Lithography was widely practiced by many artists from Giovanni Battista Piranesi to Maurits Cornelis Escher, from Eugène Delacroix to Valentin Serov. The famous French artist and sculptor Honoré Daumier spent six months in the prison of Saint-Pelagie for the Gargantua lithograph, in which he ridiculed King Louis-Philippe. The Bull series of 11 lithographs by Pablo Picasso imprinted on one stone in 1945 perfectly conveys the animal at different stages of abstraction — from a realistic image to a schematic "idea of a bull".