The Artfinder Blog

Inside the Art of Lithography

Here at Artfinder we’re always interested in exploring printmaking techniques both traditional and contemporary, and this week we’re focussing on lithography printing, a form of printmaking that first emerged in the late 18th century.

A History of Lithography

Lithography was invented by a young playwright Alois Senefelder, who in 1796 sought a new way to publish multiple copies of his plays. He would apply greasy ink to a lithographic stone and transfer the ink to paper on the principle that grease and water repel one another.

With his technique proving successful, nineteenth century masters such as Delacroix, Gericault and Goya cottoned on to lithography as a great way to make fine art affordable. With lithography it became much easier to print larger areas than with earlier printing relief or intaglio methods that involved carving images out of a surface.

Francisco Goya, Spanish Entertainment (from the series The Bulls of Bordeaux [1825]) © Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid

Mourlot and Picasso: The Modern Grandfathers of Lithography

Lithography was relatively unfashionable over the next hundred years, until it caught the eye of one Pablo Picasso. He joined forces with the legendary Fernand Mourlot, who transformed his grandfather’s wallpaper studio into a world famous lithographic studio which promoted close collaboration between artists and expert printmakers. With Fernand, Picasso used lithography as a means to advertise his exhibitions in colour, and as a way to create wonderful editions of new works and ideas.

Fernand Mourlot and Marc Chagall examine a lithograph

How a Lithograph is Made

Lithography relies on the repulsion of grease and water. Traditionally using a limestone as its base, but often employing other smooth mediums such as aluminium, the lithographer marks out their image using a waxy substance. When ink is rolled onto the surface, it clings to the greasy image, whilst the remaining surface is kept wet and repels the ink. Paper is then placed onto the surface and the image is transferred after running it through a press. Different colours can be applied using multiple stones to create multicoloured lithographs.

"Forbidden Fruit Series: Dark Perfume" by Sarah Dudley

"Forbidden Fruit Series: Nightlight" by Sarah Dudley

Today many publishers use offset lithography. This process differs in that an image is transferred to paper via another medium, so that the end print is never a mirror image of the greasy image. In this way prints of maps, posters and books can be produced in great volumes without damaging the original plate.

"Her Little Birdy (In A Blue Dress)" by Gražvyda Andrijauskaitė

"Stampede" by Paul Henery

Do you practice lithography or do you collect lithographs?

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