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1. Invention and incunabula, before c 1818

Source: Oxford University Press

Senefelder seems to have been confused about the exact nature of his invention, for his various writings date it to 1796, 1798 and 1799. A dramatist, hoping to circulate his plays cheaply, he experimented from the mid-1790s with stereotyping and reversed writing on intaglio plates. A limestone slab used for mixing ink and the composition of wax, soap and lampblack devised for his writing experiments led to his discovery. In an oft-quoted passage, he related that having no paper handy, he jotted his mother’s laundry list on to the limestone slab, using his new composition. In July 1796 he bit the stone with dilute acid and printed from the lettering, ‘elevated about …1/120th part of an inch’ (0.2 mm), by inking it with a board covered in fine cloth. ‘Thus’, he explained, ‘was the new art invented’. While the inking-board and acid-resistant composition were innovative, relief-etched stone was not. It was at least two years before Senefelder perfected the planographic method, after experiments had convinced him that gum arabic was essential to the interaction of the ingredients. The earliest legal documents relating to lithography were a 15-year privilege dated 3 September 1799 giving Senefelder exclusive rights in Bavaria; a contract signed 25 days later allowing the music publisher Johann Anton André (1775–1842) of Offenbach to exploit the process as Senefelder’s partner; and British patents granted on 19 June 1801 for Scotland and a day later for England and Wales. By 1820 the process had spread through Europe, as well as to Russia and the USA.

(i) German-speaking states

Senefelder’s first publication from relief-etched stone was 12 Neue Lieder für’s Klavier (Munich, 1796) by his friend Franz Gleissner (1760–c. 1820). The title-page of the same composer’s Eine Symphonie von vier obligaten Stimmen (Munich, 1799) pioneered true lithography, but in the ‘engraved manner’. By then capable of pictorial motifs, the inventor had sufficient business at his Munich press to employ his brothers, Georg Senefelder (1778–1827) and Theobald Senefelder (1777–1846), plus two apprentices. André paid Alois Senefelder 2000 florins for rights to exploit the process and to help to convert his own business to ‘chemical printing’. On 10 August 1801 he paid a further 3000 florins for British patents, but a quarrel ended the partnership a day later.

Thereafter, André promoted lithography without Senefelder’s help. André’s cousin, François Johannot of Offenbach, produced a chalk landscape for Matthias Koch as early as 1802 and in 1803 gave assistance to Christoph Wilhelm Reuter of Berlin. In the next few years Reuter, who made some 130 lithographs himself, encouraged Johann Gottfried Schadow, Carl Friedrich Hampe (1772–1848) and Johann Gottfried Niedlich (1766–1837) to contribute to Polyautographische Zeichnungen vorzüglicher Berliner Künstler (Berlin, 1804–8). The first German masterpiece, however, was Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s pen lithograph of a Gothic Church behind an Oak Grove (1810).

From 1801 to 1806 Senefelder printed music in Vienna and explored lithography’s potential on calico, but his business capital and acumen did not equal his inventiveness. In October 1806 he set up his second Munich press with Baron Christoph von Aretin (1773–1824). He printed music, maps and, in 1808, a facsimile edition of Dürer’s drawings in the Book of Hours of the Emperor Maximilian I (Munich, Bayer. Staatsbib.) and 24 specimens entitled Musterbuch über alle lithographischen Kunstmanieren. Despite Senefelder’s ‘exclusive rights’, several other Bavarian presses were operating. From 1804 Mitterer produced figures and plants as teaching aids at the Feiertagsschule für Künstler und Techniker in Munich, followed by Lithographische Kunstprodukte, which appeared from October 1805 to December 1807 in 26 monthly parts, totalling 156 lithographs by local artists, including Max Wagenbauer (1774–1829) and Simon Petrus Klotz. In October 1809 Senefelder became an inspector at a Munich press engaged in land survey for tax assessment; this sinecure allowed him time to refine his discovery and to complete the treatise he published in 1818. His own press passed to Johann Christian von Mannlich in 1810. As court painter and director of the imperial museums, von Mannlich initiated two publications reproducing 600 paintings in tinted (two-tone) lithography by Johann Nepomuk Strixner, Ferdinand Piloty (1786–1844) and others.

(ii) Britain

Senefelder was in London from late 1800 to mid-1801, helping André’s brother Philipp to establish the first press outside the German-speaking states. He gave Philipp André instruction and helped the Swiss artist Konrad Gessner to produce some of the earliest artists’ lithographs . Felix H. Man recorded that by 1810, 165 lithographs had been produced in England.

The process was regarded as a way of multiplying drawings, and André published 12 Specimens of Polyautography on 30 April 1803. Works in pen were made by Benjamin West, President of the Royal Academy, and by Royal Academicians James Barry, Henry Fuseli and Thomas Stothard. In 1803 André also printed Twelve Views of Scotland Delineated by a Lady, technically precocious but aesthetically timid chalk drawings by Miss F. Waring ( fl 1802–26). From 1806 G. J. Vollweiler of Offenbach completed 36 Specimens of Polyautography as a series. Discouraged by poor sales, he returned to Germany in August 1807, after printing William Blake’s pen drawing and frescoes in a Stratford-upon-Avon chapel recorded by the antiquary Thomas Fisher (1782–1836) of Hoxton.

Under licence from Vollweiler, the Quarter-Master-General’s Office produced circulars and maps with the help of the English press’s former assistant, D. J. Redman. In 1812 or 1813 Redman opened the first independent lithographic workshop in Bath. His principal client was Thomas Barker, who in 1813 drew Forty Lithographic Impressions of Rustic Figures and in 1814 the remarkable Thirty-two Lithographic Impressions from Pen Drawings of Landscape Scenery. But Redman was technically limited; lithography was to progress only when, in 1819, Rudolph Ackermann published Senefelder’s treatise in English, and the artist–printer Charles Joseph Hullmandel set up his own press.

(iii) France

Peter Friedrich [Frédéric] André was granted a brevet d’importation on 11 February 1802, but inexperience and the Napoleonic Wars hindered his development. He sold licences to other printers and produced music at Charenton until c. May 1804; then he worked until early 1806 in the Rue Saint-Sébastien, Paris. After a hiatus in 1807, he opened a third press in the Rue du Pont-aux-Choux, which he abandoned in 1809. Several early French music covers were embellished by Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret, whose 1804 vignette of Mercury advertising André’s ‘imprimerie lithographique’ was once wrongly thought to be the earliest lithograph made in France. In fact, Bergeret began reproducing paintings in the Louvre for an English publisher in 1803, but, due to renewed hostilities, only a prospectus, and pen lithographs after Rubens and Giulio Romano, were completed. Coterminous with these abortive attempts to establish the process, several influential Frenchmen learnt of it in Munich. Two of Napoleon’s officers and his brother tried it between 1805 and 1807. Baron Dominique Vivant Denon, director general of the imperial museums, became an enthusiast after visiting von Mannlich’s press in 1809. In 1812 and 1814 respectively, Charles-Philibert de Lasteyrie (1759–1849) and Godefroy Engelmann took instruction and became France’s first successful printers.

From late 1815 Lasteyrie produced routine commercial work at the Ministère de l’Intérieur; his second press at 54, Rue du Four, Saint-Germain, Paris, published prints, illustration and caricature by Carle and Horace Vernet, Jean-Baptiste Isabey, Baron Antoine-Jean Gros and Vivant Denon. Engelmann experimented with the process from 1813 after reading Das Geheimniss des Steindrucks (Tübingen, 1810) by Heinrich Rapp (1761–1832). Engelmann’s first press was in Mulhouse, his second opened at 18, Rue Cassette, Paris, on 15 June 1816. On 3 August he sent prints to the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, which appointed a commission to study lithography; 23 days later he deposited Le Chien de l’aveugle by Pierre-Antoine Mongin (1761–1827) at the dépôt légal (Paris, Bib. N.). France’s supremacy sprang largely from Engelmann’s improvements, and the process came of age on 8 October 1817, when it was subjected to the same regulations as other graphic media.

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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