Last year I 'encouraged' a friend of GeorgeBaxter.com to write an article for the newsletter - after some consideration Michael decided on the highly interesting subject of Baxter and how his work sat in context of Chromolithography. Michael Twyman is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading.
This article was published in the New Baxter Newsletter November 2018 and is now published here for you to enjoy, don't forget all images are 'zoomable'
Baxter: the chromolithographic context
Chromolithography and the Baxter process rivalled one another for a couple of decades in the middle of the nineteenth century, but the two approaches to colour printing are rarely considered together as part of the same story: that is, the history of affordable prints in colour. From the point of view of someone interested in European colour printing and particularly chromolithography – as I am – the Baxter process is sandwiched between two periods of great activity, one around 1818 and the other in the second half of the 1830s. The second of these periods is, of course, precisely when Baxter was launching his patented process; seen in this context he becomes part of a much broader European scene, though he remains quintessentially British in style and subject matter.
This article stems from a suggestion that I might like to write something for the Newsletter about chromolithography. But since I had already written a fairly hefty tome on the subject, I felt that I should try to put a particular slant on it for members of the Society, rather than attempt the impossible task of summarizing my rather lengthy book. In order to keep this article manageable I have included no references, but everything written here is documented in the book in question.*
The history of chromolithography is complicated by the fact that the actual process – that is, printing lithographs in colour – preceded the use of the word itself. This was not coined until 1837, when Godefroy Engelmann used it (strictly speaking the French word ‘chromolithographie’) when publicising his particular approach to printing lithographs in colour very soon after being granted a patent for it. Some historians of chromolithography have taken Engelmann’s patent to be the beginnings of the process, but since the word chromolithography means no more than printing lithographs in colour, this position is hard to maintain.
Fig. 1. ‘Panier de fruits’, print before letters for Godefroy Engelmann’s Album chromolithographique ou recueil d’essais du nouveau procédé d’impression lithographique en couleurs (Paris: Risler fils; Leipzig: Del Vecchio, 1837). Lithographed in blue, yellow, red, and black. Image 230 x 310 mm. and close up to the right - remember you can zoom in on all images
However, it could be argued that Engelmann’s patented process was essentially about picture printing, since all but one of the specimens he produced to publicise it in his Album chromolithographique of 1837 are pictorial (fig. 1), the exception being its decorative title-sheet. Engelmann’s emphasis on pictures invites comparison with Baxter’s constant reference to himself as a ‘picture printer’. Not only was Engelmann’s process targeted at picture printers, but it was based on the idea of printing them in just three or four colours. He had already produced other kinds of lithography in colour, including some large text-based posters in the 1820s and at least one book cover, which he printed in three colours in 1835 (fig. 2). Clearly he did not regard this kind of work as ‘chromolithographie’. Nevertheless, the significance of his patent lay not so much in the idea of picture printing, but in the particular approach he took to it. This had to be the case if he wanted to be able to claim his process as an ‘invention’, since other lithographers had printed pictures in colour before him. So we are left with this confusion over what chromolithography actually means. Some French writers on colour lithography have tried to make a distinction between picture printing in colour and other colour work, such as jobbing printing and the book cover illustrated here.
They limit their use of ‘chromolithographie’ to pictorial work (regardless of whether the method used was Engelmann’s) and apply the word ‘lithocolore’ – a term that pre-dates Engelmann’s process and was originally used by him to describe it – to non-pictorial work.
Fig. 2. Paper covers of Le cabinet de monnaies du voyageur et du négociant ou représentation des monnaies courantes des differens pays (Mulhouse: Englmann père et fils, 1835). Lithographed in green, terracotta, and black. 225 x 145 mm.
The position I and many others have taken is that the French word ‘chromolithographie’ and its English-language equivalent ‘chromolithography’ cover all kinds of lithographic printing in colour, regardless of subject and approach. Though rarely stated, current usage also suggests that chromolithographs have to be printed in more than one colour and mainly drawn by hand (that is, with only minimal use of photographic methods).
A broad sweep of lithographic history reveals several experiments in colour printing in the first decade or so of the nineteenth century, that is, within a dozen years of the invention of the process by Alois Senefelder. The most significant is the facsimile Senefelder produced of Dürer’s marginal drawings for the prayer book of the Emperor Maximilian, published in Munich in 1808, which has each page printed in a different but single colour. Ackermann printed a facsimile of the same work in London in 1817. Both were landmark publications in their own way, but their plates cannot be regarded as chromolithographs for the reason given above. It could be argued that it was the inventor’s treatise on lithography Vollständiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerey (Munich and Vienna, 1818; English translation, London, 1819; French translation, Paris, 1819), that marked the real beginnings of chromolithography as we might call it today, since it included a three-colour facsimile of part of a page from the Fust and Schoeffer Psalter of 1457, as well as a chapter devoted to colour printing.
Fig. 3. ‘Persice’, from J. A. Barth, Pacis annis MDCCCXIV et MDCCCXV foederatis armis restitutae monumentum (Breslau [Wroclaw], 1818). Lithographed by Barth in five flat colours (blue, cream, orange, green, and black). Image 360 x 250 mm.
Fig. 4. ‘Preussen’, from C. H. von Gelbke, Abbildungen der Wappen saemmtlicher europaeischen Souveraine, der Republiken und freien Staedte (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1832-41). Drawn on stone by Heinrich Asmus and printed in six colours plus gold by C. Hildebrandt in Berlin, with additional hand-colouring. Page 460 x 292 mm.
For a while it was the German-speaking countries that continued to lead the way in chromolithography. The most impressive publications before Baxter’s patent were J. A. Barth’s Pacis Annis MDCCCXIV et MDCCCXV feoderati armi restitutae monumentum (Breslau [Wroclaw],1818) (fig. 3), Wilhelm Zahn’s reproductions of the newly discovered wall paintings at Pompeii in the first parts of his Die schönsten Ornamente (Berlin, 1828–29), and Heinrich Asmus’s plates for C. H. von Gelbke’s Abbildungen der Wappen (Berlin, 1832–41) (fig. 4). The last two titles were published by Georg Reimer, whose firm continued to issue works on the decorative arts mainly with chromolithographs in flat colours in the 1820s and 1830s. Though none of these major publications included what might be described as ‘picture printing’ it is clear that chromolithography was being widely practised before Baxter applied for his patent and even before his first experiments in printing from wood blocks alone, supposedly in 1829. Like William Savage, who produced some ambitious colour prints in the period 1818–23 for his Practical hints on decorative printing (1822), these early chromolithographed publications relied mostly on flat areas of colour and made little use of hatched areas of tone or overprinting. This too distinguishes them from Baxter’s prints, some of which do show some gradations of tone on the supporting colour blocks. Of the major chromolithographed publications mentioned above, Zahn’s comes nearest to picture printing, since it reproduces paintings, albeit with some hand-colouring.
It is difficult to account for the flurry of experiments in colour printing of the second half of the 1830s – Baxter’s among them – because they were made under varied circumstances and in several different parts of Europe. The most plausible interpretation is that they were a somewhat delayed response to the mechanization of printing and its related trades, which was beginning to take effect across Europe. The introduction of paper-making machines at the outset of the nineteenth century and of powered printing machines for letterpress printing in the following decades pointed the way to the industrialisation of printing and the possibility of larger markets for its products. In this changing world the hand-colouring of prints must have begun to be seen as an anachronism. In addition, Michel-Eugène Chevreul’s influential work on colour theory, De la loi de contraste simultané de couleur, which was first published in Paris in 1839 following a series of influential public lectures over the preceding years, was beginning to have an impact on many trades and occupations, and not just in France.
The leading lithographers to experiment with colour in the period 1835 to 1840 – in addition to Engelmann in Mulhouse – were Frédéric Simon (in Strasbourg) and Charles Hullmandel, Owen Jones, Day & Haghe (all in London). Among relief printers, Charles Knight (who patented his ‘illuminated printing’ in 1838), Gustave Silbermann (Strasbourg) and Didot frères (Paris) were all printing in colour in precisely this period. Hullmandel produced four double-spread colour lithographs after wall paintings for Hoskins’s Travels in Ethiopia (fig. 5) in the months before Baxter applied for his patent in 1835, and Frédéric Simon printed the first of a series of Jean Midolle’s calligraphic specimens in colour over the period 1834–35, but otherwise Baxter seems to have preceded all those mentioned above. In any case, all but Knight and Hullmandel (who moved on to produce pictorial chromolithographs in 1838 and 1839), focused on decorative work.
Fig. 5. Detail of double spread from G. A. Hoskins, Travels in Ethiopia (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman, 1835). Drawn by Joseph Bonomi and printed by Charles Hullmandel in four flat colours (grey, brown, blue, and black), with additional hand-colouring. 90 x 140 mm.
Attitudes to chromolithography in its early days were influenced by the prevailing eighteenth-century methods of intaglio printing, which involved inking up a single copper plate in different colours. The popularity of this approach led some chromolithographers to try something similar when working on stone. A competition announced in France in 1829 for a method of colour lithography that could compete with hand-colouring even put emphasis on this idea of selectively inking a single stone in different colours.
Years later Godefroy Englmann won this competition, his solution being the four-colour approach (referred to above) using separate stones for blue, yellow, red, and black workings. In effect, he did no more than apply the methods that Le Blon had used in the early eighteenth century – which he knew about – and apply them to lithography. It took some decades before Engelmann’s approach to chromolithography caught on, largely because it was difficult to find artists capable of allocating colours to different stones for pictorial work. It was Jean Engelmann, one of Godefroy’s sons, who took chromolithography further in France when he set up as a
Fig. 6. Display card for chromolithographic pens of J. Panier & H. Rave. Designed by Collette et Sanson and printed in five colours (red, blue, green, gold, and black) by Jean Engelmann, Paris, early 1840s. 150 x 212 mm.
lithographic printer independently in Paris. But he abandoned his father’s four-colour idea and concentrated on decorative work, often using a range of five rather different colours: blue, red, green, gold, and black (fig. 6).
Fig. 7 and 7a. Thomas Shotter Boys, ‘Laon Cathedral, from Picturesque architecture in Paris, Ghent, Antwep, Rouen, &c (London: Boys, 1839). Printed by Hullmandel in six colours (grey, stone, ochre, terracotta, blue, and black). Image 388 x 280 mm, detail 140 x 125 mm
The chromolithographer who adopted an approach that could be seen as most similar to Baxter’s was Charles Hullmandel, working in conjunction with the artist Thomas Shotter Boys. Hullmandel printed the twenty-six plates for the latter’s Picturesque architecture in Paris, Ghent, Antwerp, Rouen, &c (London, 1839), all of which have a dominant foundation working printed in black or some other dark hue. Colours were added to this foundation image from three to six stones (figs. 7, 7a), far fewer than Baxter would normally have used. The approach adopted by Boys and Hullmandel for the plates of Picturesque architecture was based on that of the hand-colourist, as was Baxter’s. There perhaps the comparison ends because, leaving aside a few of Baxter’s most important prints, Hullmandel and Boys were working on a much larger scale. For all their superior artistry, Boys’s foundation drawings are less delicate than Baxter’s, and the colour workings that were added to them seem on occasions not as well integrated as those in most Baxter prints.
Fig. 8. Illustration from Knecht and Desportes, Nouveau manuel complet de l’imprimeur lithographe (Paris, 1850), printed by Engelmann & Graf from seven stones. 48 x 73 mm.
In the relatively early days of chromolithography very few images were printed in sizes comparable to Baxter’s smaller prints. It might therefore be useful to illustrate the one small pictorial chromolithograph of the mid 19th century that I can recall coming across (fig. 8), which is comparable in size to many of Baxter’s smaller book illustrations. Printed by Engelmann & Graf from seven stones, it measures 48 x 73 mm and was published in Knecht and Desportes handbook on lithographic printing, Nouveau manuel complet de l’imprimeur lithographe (Paris, 1850). Its range of hues and registration provide an interesting comparison with Baxter’s prints of the same period.
In the long run, lithographers found that what worked best for pictorial work in colour was to abandon the idea of a foundation image, which lay at the heart of the Baxter process. Over time, they learned to transfer a key drawing that defined all the different shapes, tones, and hues of an original full-colour image to however many different stones that were needed to reproduce it (fig. 9). These transfers did not print in the final work, but provided an extremely accurate guide for the lithographic artists, often working in teams, to allocate appropriate marks to each stone in order to produce the desired effect.
The number of stones used by chromolithographers varied enormously. Sometimes Godefroy Engelmann’s four-colour approach was modified by adding a few more colours, particularly flesh and grey. This was done mainly for popular work at the cheaper end of the market, such as small advertising cards and, just as commonly, large commercial posters. At the high end, when reproducing paintings for example, the number of colours used in chromolithography was sometimes extended to double those generally found in Baxter’s quality work.
Fig. 9. Keyline drawing and the eleven colours required for a simple chromolithograph. Plate illustrating the entry for ‘Cromo’ from the Enciclopedia ilustrada Segui (Barcelona, Miguel Segui, 1900–35). Page 327 x 250 mm.
In the mid 1880s one American lithographer attempted to provide a simple classification of chromolithographs according to the number of colours employed: ‘light color work’ (two to five); ‘color work’ (six to twelve); ‘chromo-work’ and ‘heavy chromo-work’ (both more than twelve). He deprecated the use of more than twenty colours, though that was not by any means unusual in quality reproductive work. Many of the 116 plates the American lithographer Louis Prang printed for S. W. Bushell’s Oriental ceramic art (New York, 1897) required that numbers of workings.
This extravagance in chromolithography – and over thirty and even forty-five workings have been recorded – was made possible partly by the availability of relatively cheap labour, particularly in Germany, but also by the introduction of effective powered lithographic presses in the second half of the 1860s. Machine production in chromolithography led to print runs that far surpassed those claimed by Baxter. It facilitated the output of popular work on a massive scale and therefore justified, or perhaps excused, a certain laxity in the use of colours at the origination stage. Even so, the lithographer who categorized chromolithography according to the number of workings pointed out that ‘artists able to produce finished work artistically in a few colours are better salaried than others.’
The use of powered printing machines had some drawbacks. If they were to work at anything like their maximum capacity they were limited to stones that had been given a polished surface, not unlike that of Formica. This ruled out the traditional practice of building up tones with lithographic crayon, which could only be done on stones that had been prepared with an appropriate grain.
Ways had therefore to be found of making marks on polished stones with greasy ink in a binary way, using configurations of lines or dots of various sizes and distances from one another to simulate tones. From this technical limitation emerged the work of the lithographic stippler, who produced festoons of dots in patterns resembling those of the cobblestoned streets of continental Europe (fig. 10). What both had in common was a means of disguising the joins when working over what were large areas for their respective fields. Lithographic work of this kind was tedious, and in 1878 Benjamin Day in the United States patented a means of imitating stippling and other binary shading techniques with what became known as Ben Day tints or, generically, mechanical tints. Day’s invention covered the making of transparent gelatine sheets with raised patterns which could be rolled up with greasy ink, turned over onto a drawing on stone precisely where needed, and rubbed down to leave their inky marks.
Fig. 10. Detail of pen stipple patterns, from a late 19th century trade card of the Richardson Manufacturing Co., Worcester MA. 30 x 30 mm.
They were a means of speeding up the drawing of large areas of tonal work in chromolithography, and were also used by artists who produced drawings for photomechanical reproduction.
The introduction of powered lithographic machines encouraged the use of large ‘machine’ stones (commonly measuring 1.0 x 1.5 metres) and also the practice of transferring any number of small images from what were called ‘mother’ stones to them. The process required considerable skill, but in essence was simple.
Fig. 11. Sheet of chromolithographed images printed in colours by Le Blond & Co. Each of the individual workings of the four images transferred three times from ‘mother’ stones to ‘machine’ stones to speed up production. Sheet 44.5 x 29.5 mm.
Multiple impressions were taken of each colour working of a small chromolithograph, perhaps ten, twenty, or even fifty according to the size of the image. These impressions were carefully pasted down in position on a backing sheet of card, or better still thin metal (which was more stable), and then transferred to a large machine stone before the ink had fully dried. The process had to be repeated for each colour working, hence the need for precision when pasting down the impressions onto backing sheets.
It could be argued that the process of transferring multiple images to stones was just as important as the introduction of powered machines when very large quantities of small chromolithographed items were needed. It was the use of this technique on an uncut sheet printed by Le Blond (fig. 11), that allows us to say at once that the images were not produced by the Baxter process. In this particular case the transfer process increased the output of the four different images by a factor of three, but clearly the set of colour workings for just one of these images could have been transferred twelve times. When such methods were combined with printing on powered machines, which was usually the case from the late 1860s, the pure Baxter process had become uncompetitive. Together, these developments were to provide the killer blow.
Baxter retired before competition with chromolithography became really fierce, but by the time of his death in 1867 powered lithographic machines were in regular use by leading chromolithographic firms. Consequently, Baxter’s licensees were forced to change direction, either by transferring intaglio plates to lithographic stones for speedier printing and using fewer colour blocks, which Kronheim seems to have done, or by turning to chromolithography, which Kronheim, LeBlond and several other Baxter licensees did. If ever there was recognition that the Baxter process had run its course it was this change of direction.
Nevertheless, though the shelf-life of the Baxter process was relatively short – at least when compared with chromolithography and printing in colour from relief blocks alone – it played an extremely important role in the overall context of colour printing. It demonstrated that it was possible to produce pictorial prints in colour that could compete in quality and price with hand-colouring across a range of genres and products. Baxter managed to do this before 1840, which, at that stage, no other colour printer in Europe could claim to have done.
Did Baxter himself ever entertain the idea of changing horses and trying chromolithography when the going got hard? We shall probably never know. His patent refers to the use of lithography for the foundation working, but this was done simply to cover all eventualities, in the manner of patents. Has any Baxter enthusiast come across even a passing comment from Baxter about chromolithography and its merits or otherwise, other than his erroneous statement to David Roberts that lithography was limited to a 1000 impressions? It is hard to believe that he was not conscious of the growing competition to his process from chromolithography, especially when he came to renew his patent in 1849. Any reflections on these points would be greatly appreciated.
* A history of chromolithography: printed colour for all (London: The British Library; Oak
Knoll, New Castle, DE, 2013). At the time of writing, the book was still available at its
original publication price from the Printing Historical Society.
Kind acknowledgements to Sally de Beaumont for permission to reproduce figs. 1, 1a, 3, 6, 7, 7a, 10