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Lithography (anc. gr. λίθος “stone” + γράφω “I write, draw”) is a type of graphics that is based on the technique of flat printing when paint is being transferred from a solid medium to paper with the use of a printing press. The term means the technique, and the corresponding artworks are called lithographs. Artists draw a picture on a flat hard surface, a lithographic stone, which is previously polished with water and sand. The artistic tools are brush, pen, bold ink and a lithographic pencil. The artist treats the stone with the picture with acids, which react with the paint and form a layer of salt on the stone. The artist removes acid residues with turpentine and washes off the image, and then applies the printing ink. Areas of the stone, where there was the drawing with oily ink, take paint, the rest of the surface remains clean. On a lithographic press, the artist transfers the image to paper by pressure, thus creating a lithograph painting. The technique makes it possible to replicate works, it allows for editing a drawing and the repeated grinding of the stone to use it for a new painting. Lithography has become a favourite form of printing for illustrators, cartoonists and advertising creators.
The father of lithography was the German Johann Alois Senefelder, who accidentally discovered the new technique in 1796—1798 in his own printing house, and 10 years later he created the first lithographic workshop and published an exact guide to printing on stone. The new technique turned out to be cheaper than engraving and gained popularity among European artists. Initially, the artists created monochrome images. To obtain colour paintings, the print was hand-coloured with watercolours. In the 1830s, the French invented the technique of multicolour lithography. The streets of European cities were adorned with theatrical posters, advertising materials, shop windows with bright magazine covers. In the second half of the 19th century, the impressionists preferred lithography, and at the end of the century Jules Chéret and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec created brilliant examples of posters. In the 20th century, artists lost interest in flat printing: lithography gave way to offset printing and zincography.
Art critics divide lithographs into types depending on the creation technology. Artists manually create paintings on a printing plate in autolithography, use separate plates for each colour in chromolithography (colour printing), and use light-sensitive materials in photolithography. Each print has artistic value as the original of the artist’s lithography, on which the artist puts a number and signature. By flat printing, artists create landscapes and genre scenes, illustrations for scientific publications and popular literature, labels and cartoons. Lithographs convey all the features of an artist’s pictorial language — representatives of romanticism, expressionism, abstract art and other styles enjoyed using the technique. Religious lithography became a separate genre: the printed images of saints were made in monastic printing houses. Lithographic images made the art of great artists and budding talents available to the general public.
Lithography is a type of printmaking, creating a print on paper using a printing plate. The peculiarity of this graphic technique is partly described by its name. The word “lithography” is derived from two Greek words: λίθος — stone and γράφω — to write, to draw. For this type of print, a flat printing plate is used, which is usually made from a flat piece of limestone.
The inventor of the lithography technique was German Johann Senefelder (1771—1824). After leaving his acting career, he opened a small printing house, and one day, he noticed that a laundry bill, which he wrote absent-mindedly on a limestone, was imprinted on a damp cloth. After several years of experimentation, Senefelder published Vollstandiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerei in 1818. In 1828, his student Joseph-Rose Lemercier founded the famous Parisian Lemercier and Co. lithography.
The lithographic technique is based on making a drawing with a special bold pencil on a previously polished surface of a limestone form. The image is treated with acid and then washed off with dextrin. The paint applied to the mould by a roller only sticks in the places where the drawing was. The form is overlaid with paper and pressed on a special machine.
It is also possible to create colour images — in this case, each new colour is printed from a different stone, and this technique is called chromolithography. The number of such stones can be up to 9. Artists use additional techniques, for example, feathering with a brush and water-diluted ink — lithotinto, as well as manual colouring of prints — lithochromy. The technology allows to reproduce the image from the form.
By the end of the 19th century, lithography had become very popular with many artists. Eugène Delacroix, Honoré Daumier, Paul Gavarni printed their works in this technique. Flamboyant theatre and cabaret posters by the French Jules Chéret, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the Czech Alphonse Mucha lit the streets of Paris, and some townspeople furtively cut beautiful posters “to collect them”.
The mechanization of the printing process through using lithographic machines made it possible to obtain large quantities of very high-quality images — both black and white, and colour. Lithography became widespread; this technique was used to produce book illustrations, maps, postcards, posters, leaflets, icons. In the Russian Empire, Ivan Sytin became the most famous publisher of mass-market illustrations, who in 1876 opened his first lithographic studio in Moscow.
He started with the maps of the Russian-Turkish war of 1877—1878, which were attached to some newspapers. Sytin mastered the market quickly and began mass production of inexpensive pictures, luboks, books and fortune-telling tables for commoners. Soon he had product catalogues, and the annual circulation of millions of books, calendars, pictures. In 1890, Sytin acquired one of the first rotary printing presses, and in 1903, he opened the School of Technical Drawing and Lithography.
Modern lithography is a rather rare type of author’s graphic art. As a rule, each copy is considered unique, has its own number and the obligatory signature of the artist.
Artists who used lithography technique: Théodore Géricault, Eugène Delacroix, Honoré Daumier, Paul Gavarni, Edvard Munch, Jules Chéret, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, Valentin Serov, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Maurits Cornelis Escher, René Magritte, Edgar Degas, Mikhail Larionov, David Hockney.
Famous lithographic artworks:
The French Blacksmith. Théodore Géricault, 1822
Japanese Couch. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1893
Madonna. Edvard Munch, 1895
Bull series of 11 lithographs. Pablo Picasso, 1945
Relativity. Maurits Cornelis Escher, 1953