National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 19, 1972

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Cézanne, Vollard, and Lithography: The Ottawa Maquette for the "Large Bathers" Colour Lithograph

by Douglas W. Druick

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Appendix: A Note on the Large Bathers
Colour Lithograph 

Although the Large Bathers colour lithograph is an increasingly sought-after work, little is known about it. A study of the print raises several questions, only some of which can be answered with certainty. (1)

The inevitable colour variation between any two impressions, whether of the same state or not, has been the source of consternation in the minds of some print experts. One of the reasons which led Una Johnson to question whether Auguste Clot did the printing (2) was that Clot was an excellent craftsman and one would expect greater colour consistency within an edition for which he was responsible. (3) Indeed, it is the opinion of some that the colour variations may indicate that pochoir, a hand-colouring process employing stencils, was the technique used for this print.

The valuation of the Clot estate established the fact that Clot was indeed responsible for the printing. (4) Furthermore, the medium is undoubtedly lithography. Magnification of colour surfaces reveals a texture characteristic of lithographic printing. Moreover, in impressions of the Large Bathers, it is common to find discoloration on the verso which corresponds to the colour areas of the print. This is the result of the penetration into the paper of the grease content of the lithographic ink.

Possible explanation for the colour variation between impressions may be inferred from a consideration of both the task which faced the printer and the limitations of the medium. In the Large Bathers, Clot was obviously attempting to create a lithograph which looked like a watercolour. Although it was evidently a common practice to execute the maquettes for colour lithographs in watercolour, (5) in none of the colour lithographs executed for L'estampe originale, for example, do we find a comparable attempt to duplicate the effects of another medium. In commercial printing of the time, the reproductions of watercolours were inevitably vulgar. Thus the job which faced Clot was an exacting one. Indeed the extremely subtle colour transitions which characterize both states are very difficult to realize in colour lithography and thus, despite colour variations, the print represents a technical tour de force.

A clue to the difficulties involved in the undertaking can be gleaned from La lithographie, a history of lithography published in 1895. The author, print historian Henri Bouchot, noted the medium's inability to reproduce watercolour successfully:

Malheureusement, et c'est le grand reproche qu'on lui fait, la chromolithographie traduit bien rarement les tonalités vraies du modèle; elle les exagère ou les amoindrit, jamais le mariage de deux encres grasses ne peut déterminer une combinaison aussi définitive ni aussi limpide que celle de couleurs à l'eau. En plus, la palette, totalement limitée à  un jeu restreint, s'abîme en des à peu près lourds et misérables. (6)

Any colour area which is produced by the superimposed printing of two or more colour stones (such as red over yellow to achieve orange) is likely to appear more opaque than an area which is produced by a single colour stone.

Clot used six colour stones in the first state (ochre, blue, orange, green, yellow, red) and five in the second (no orange) to try and capture the extensive colour range found in the Ottawa maquette. That his technical mastery could not entirely rise above certain inherent limitations of the medium is attested to by the fact that in many impressions, and particularly those of the first state, the colour is opaque and muddy. However, that within the same state some impressions are considerably more successful than others, from the point of view of colour, is perhaps the key to an explanation of the colour variation. It is, I believe, possible to hypothesize that the colour variation, within both editions, reflects the printer's on-going experimentation in the attempt to arrive at a successful approximation of the Ottawa maquette.

Insight into the way a master lithographic printer approached the various problems involved in his craft can be gained from the Traité de lithographie artistique, published in 1893. The author, E. Duchatel, was himself the respected master printer at the firm of Lemercier, one of the most important printer-publishers of lithography in Paris in the nineteenth century. In his book, Duchatel stated that in printing a lithograph involving several colour stones, best results could be obtained by using papier glacé, a paper with a coated and polished surface. (7) However, Duchatel was aware that from an artistic point of view, the surface quality of papier glacé gave an unpleasant appearance to lithographs which attempted to reproduce watercolours. (8) Therefore he advocated the process of torchonnage, wherein the finished print is run through a press with a stone which has been given a grain analogous to that of paper used for watercolours. (9) The texture of the stone is imprinted in the paper with the result that the work then has the appearance of having been executed on a textured paper.

However, while the torchonnage process modifies the surface quality of papier glacé, it cannot give it the appearance of hand-made paper. Both publisher and printer undoubtedly rejected the use of papier glacé precisely because of its commercial connotations, preferring, rather, to print on a hand-made paper of a quality that would be appreciated by the collectors. By employing a paper with a surface less polished than that of papier glacé, Clot sacrificed the luminosity which the latter lends to printed colour. (10) He opted instead for the increased presence the image gained when printed on an artist's paper.

The type of paper used in the printing of the Large Bathers is significant. Both the Small Bathers as well as the colour lithographs in L'estampe originale were printed on papers having a smooth surface (chine in small Bathers; a variety of papers, some commercial, in the case of L'estampe originale). In contrast, the Large Bathers was printed on a paper which is characterized by a pronounced texture caused by the laid lines (MBM Arches - "Ingres" variety). Whereas chine was customarily used in printing engravings, etchings and lithographs, a paper like Ingres d'Arches was more associated with drawing. Thus it is possible that the choice of paper for the Large Bathers reflects a desire to increase the status of the print by giving it the aura of a unique work of art. On the other hand, it is certain that the pronounced texture increased the difficulty of printing the colour successfully.

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