by Christine Giviskos. Hirmer, March 2018. 208 p. ill. ISBN 9783777429946 (h/c), $45.00.
Reviewed September 2018
Lithography, though invented in Germany, was perfected in Paris. As a printing process, it offered new possibilities for artistic expression, accelerated the means of print production, and changed society’s visual landscape, flooding the streets with imagery and color at an unprecedented volume and setting the stage for today’s mass media culture. Set in Stone: Lithography in Paris, 1815-1900 provides a comprehensive examination of multiple aspects of lithography’s development and impact, both artistically and commercially speaking, in its epicenter.
Published to accompany an exhibition of the same name at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Set in Stone features items drawn almost exclusively from the museum’s exceptional collection of French prints and graphic arts. It contains four chapters: one introductory, and three chronologically divided, tracing Parisian lithography from its beginnings with the establishment of early print shops, through the phenomena of the lithographic album and the satirical press, to the iconic posters of the fin-de-siècle. Looking through a variety of lenses—the historical and cultural context of France’s industrial age, artistic developments, and the economics of presswork—provides breadth and substance to the book’s treatment of the subject. A series of full-page color plates follows the main text. (There are 130 color images in total throughout the volume, all high quality, well labelled, and cross-referenced to an exhibition checklist.) Notes, a selected bibliography, and an index are also present. The book is handsomely designed, the typeface pleasing to read, and the overall effect is that of an oversized luxury publication while measuring only twenty-nine centimeters.
The author, curator of prints, drawings, and European art at the Zimmerli, anticipates the reader’s familiarity with the logistics of print processes (relief vs. intaglio vs. planographic) and assumes some degree of literacy in nineteenth-century European—particularly French—art, although the text is not inaccessible for the beginner. For those without knowledge of basic French vocabulary, English translation of titles and popular expressions is very thin.
This work is a welcome addition to the literature on lithography, generally speaking, and a particularly good resource for gaining an understanding of the medium’s localized context. It should not be confused with a broader history of lithography, as the artists and craftspeople featured within are strictly French. It is recommended for academic and museum libraries, particularly those with developed collections in prints and printmaking, as well as French and European nineteenth-century art.