The Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection of 22,000 works on paper includes a group of exceptional lithographs that were made in France during the nineteenth century, a golden age for the medium. Artists working in France embraced the technique, which Alois Senefelder had invented in Germany at the end of the eighteenth century. Lithography had two major advantages over other forms of printmaking. The technical properties of the stone plate allowed artists to make a virtually unlimited number of high-quality prints, and artists could translate the freedom and texture of drawing more directly into printed, repeatable form. It is perhaps fitting that our museum, located in the heart of Indiana “stone country,” should have such an important group of lithographs, or “drawings on stone.”
Although a number of prominent French artists, such as Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix, made lithographs during the first half of the nineteenth century, most notably (e.g. Wild Horse, 1828), it was Honoré Daumier, one of the most talented draughtsman in the history of art, whose name became almost synonymous with the medium. Over the course of his career, Daumier produced almost four thousand lithographs, a truly astonishing achievement. The Eskenazi Museum’s collection includes two of his most famous and rarest lithographic images: Rue Transnonain, April 15, 1834 and Nadar Elevating Photography to the Height of Art.
Daumier and other artists realized that lithography presented the means of disseminating powerful social imagery to a wide audience, and many of Daumier’s images are political in nature. The grim scene of civilians massacred by National Guard troops depicted in his lithograph Rue Transnonain was aimed at the repressive actions of King Louis-Philippe, whose agents tracked down and confiscated as many impressions of this print as they could, thus ensuring the rarity and celebrity of this masterful work of art. Although Daumier was best known as a caricaturist, the brilliantly descriptive use of line as well as light and dark to create sculptural mass adds gravitas to this wrenching scene.
Daumier’s career coincided with the rise of photography, which resulted Nadar Elevating Photography to the Height of Art, a brilliant send up of the rising popularity of this competing art form. Nadar and Daumier were good friends, and Nadar made numerous photographic portraits of Daumier, including the one in the Eskenazi Museum’s collection. Unlike the thematic and visual weightiness of Rue Transnonain, this image is imbued with a sense of lightness and vivacity through Daumier’s active drawing and dynamic composition as well as through the airborne antics of his friend.
Daumier was an “artist’s artist” and he was admired by succeeding generations of artists like Édouard Manet and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Manet was undoubtedly aware of Daumier’s Rue Transnonain when he responded to another political crisis in France with two famous lithographs: Civil War and The Barricades. These images resulted from the Siege of Paris during the war with Prussia in 1870, when French troops were allowed into Paris by Prussian troops to brutally quell the rebellion called the Commune. Manet was a technical innovator and these prints demonstrate his unique use of the lithographic crayon. In addition to using the tip of the crayon, he also laid the implement on its side to create flat areas of tone. In Civil War, Manet employed this technique to powerfully expressive effect to depict the stone barricade. The overlaid, intensive working of the lithographic crayon conveys a sense of immediacy and passion that heightens the message of the senseless slaughter.
The Eskenazi Museum of Art is fortunate to have one of four known experimental proof prints for Manet’s The Races (Les Courses), one of the great rarities of nineteenth-century French lithography. Perhaps because he was not concerned with marketing this print, Manet was incredibly free and experimental in his riotous application of the lithographic crayon markings to the stone plate.
Although he was never formally a part of the Impressionist group, he knew and admired the work of Monet and Degas, and The Races is arguably the printed embodiment of two Impressionist ideals: speed and painterly touch. The print was editioned after Manet’s death in 1883, but the museum’s work was probably made directly under the artist’s supervision. The other known proof impressions are in the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale of France; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; and the Art Institute of Chicago, which owns the oil painting related to this image.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose name has become synonymous with the lithographic poster of fin-de-siècle France, was said to have been encouraged to make color lithographs by the Nabis artist, Pierre Bonnard, who made his first poster advertising champagne in 1889. In 1893, Bonnard made a poster advertising the avant-garde literary publication, La Revue Blanche, a journal for which Toulouse-Lautrec also worked. Bonnard’s design is notable for the flattened and seemingly boneless construction of the figures, which seem to float on the surface of the paper, as well as the integration of the title into the image, making it difficult to understand immediately what is being advertised.
The lithographic poster format seemed to have a liberating effect on Toulouse-Lautrec, who produced dozens of memorable designs during his relatively short career. One of these, May Milton, arrests the eye through the bold contrast of the striking blue background and the performer’s white dress. It also features the curious detail on the left side of the performer’s foot protruding out of the dress accompanied by a series of serpentine squiggles.
Toulouse-Lautrec’s images caught the eye of print collectors, and he was soon asked to produce prints for the collector’s market. Englishman at the Moulin Rouge is one of the artist’s earliest color prints in this area. By the early 1890s, Japanese color woodblocks had been circulating in France for decades. In addition to presenting a radically different approach to representation, Japanese prints also suggested how color images could be built up through the careful application of layered, printed color with multiple blocks or plates. This additive process can be glimpsed in two versions of the same print by the artist Édouard Vuillard: Room with Pink Wallpaper II.
A print like Toulouse-Lautrec’s Englishman at the Moulin Rouge includes seven different colors, each of which would have required a separate plate. Each printed sheet would have required seven passes through the press in order to reach completion. In the Englishman, we also see another technical innovation: the use of a spatter technique to create “tints” as opposed to blocks of solid color. This enabled lightness and delicacy in the application of printed color, a technique that Toulouse-Lautrec brilliantly exploited in his color prints. As an interesting aside, Toulouse-Lautrec’s print, which is based on a painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, does not translate the red “burning” ear of his friend and fellow artist, William Tom Warrener, who has heard something extremely naughty from the two young ladies nearby.
Toulouse-Lautrec’s Departure for the Country was produced for the dealer Ambrose Vollard’s Album d’estampes originales de la Galerie Vollard. Other artists in the set included Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Edvard Munch, Odilon Redon, and Édouard Vuillard. To produce this masterpiece of color lithography, Toulouse-Lautrec collaborated with the printer Auguste Clot, who specialized in lithography and worked with most of the major artists of the period. Together they produced a print that has the airiness and delicacy of a watercolor drawing.
Toulouse-Lautrec’s beautiful color lithographs and his experimental collaboration with printers like Auguste Clot paved the way for other artists, including Odilon Redon and Édouard Vuillard. As part of the same set of lithographs commissioned by Vollard in 1897, Redon worked with Clot to produce an ethereal portrait of Dante’s lover, Beatrice, which is composed almost entirely of veils of color. Working with the printer Clot a couple of years later, Vuillard likewise made a gorgeous reflection on the color pink in his lithograph Interior with Pink Wallpaper I, one of a series of three prints that formed a triptych. Reds, and especially pinks, were pigments that were at greatest risk of fading, so Vuillard’s use of pink seems to heighten the feeling of delicacy and ephemerality of this exceedingly beautiful color lithograph.
A truly strange but wonderful image by Redon rounds out this incredible group of lithographs. Like Daumier, Manet, and Toulouse-Lautrec, Redon was an enormously talented draughtsman, and he turned his graphic skills toward producing images of the inner world of the imagination and the subconscious. Redon’s The Eye, Like a Strange Balloon, Drifts Towards Infinity makes a fascinating comparison with Daumier’s Nadar Elevating Photography to the Height of Art. Whereas Daumier turned a mechanical eye—the camera—toward documenting the world below, the disembodied, upwardly turned eye as a balloon in Redon’s image looks heavenward for inspiration, a perfect metaphor for Redon’s artistic project.
David A. Brenneman
Wilma E. Kelley Director
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Brenneman, David A. "From Daumier to Toulouse-Lautrec: Icons of French Nineteenth-Century Lithography in the Collection of the Indiana University Eskenazi Museum of Art." Collections Online. Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2020. https://artmuseum.indiana.edu/collections-online/features/icons-of-french-lithography.php.