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Chromolithography Proofs on Display

Images from the 1876 American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia

Posted 06.13.16 by Allison Fischbach

In this volume it is believed there will be found illustrations only of such exhibits as carry with them a national character. - C.B. Norton 

Proof process for Ancient and Modern Pottery, Alexander Casarir & Co., Mexico

The staff at the Decker Library are excited to bring you a fantastic exhibit of chromolithography proofs from the library's Special Collections.

Developed in the 19th century, chromolithography, or "chromo-printing," was a color printing method that used multiple flat stones or zinc plates to apply layers of color to a print. The process was incredibly labor intenstive and high quality prints could take months to produce. Printers and shop workers were highly skilled in all aspects of development, from applying images to plates, to etching, to printing final proofs.

This collection features proofs outlining the entire printing prosses from base layers of color, to fine detailed highlights. (For greater detail, visit the Decker Library's Tumblr page). Developed for the 1876 American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, this collection was printed by Cosack & Co. of Buffalo, N.Y. In the preface editor C.B. Norton explains the impetus for this commemorative collection was to show items of art, industry, and manufacturing presented at the exhibition from countries around the globe.

Contenders to chromolithography disliked the form because they felt it lacked the "authenticity" of paintings and the highly mechanical process was assumed to lack an artist's emotional investment or spirit. However master printers then, as now, are artists who use their expertise and aesthetic dispositions to create detailed, vibrant, and mesmerizing images. Regardless of the tastes of 19th century art critics, chromolithography finds itself firmly within the preview of the arts.

Chromolithography was largely phased out in printing houses in the 1930s as offset printing provided a faster and cheaper way of creating color prints. However chromolithography is still taught in some schools today, including at MICA.

We hope you take the time to examine these incredible images and enjoy seeing the process hidden under the surface of these vibrant prints.

Image Information: Thumbnail and This Page - Ancient and Modern Pottery, Alexander Casarir & Co., Mexico

Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students from 49 states and 65 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree and non-credit programs. With art and design programs ranked in the top ten by U.S. News and World Report, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches to innovation, research, and community and social engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe, even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of exhibitions and events annually by students, faculty and other established artists.

This page was last updated on 06/10/2016.