King's College London
Online Exhibitions
From woodcut to photograph: techniques of book illustration

Hand-coloured lithographs

So far this exhibition has examined examples of the relief process like woodcuts and wood engravings and examples of the intaglio process like engravings, etchings, mezzotints and aquatints. Here we introduce examples of the planographic or surface process.

Lithography, the most usual form of the planographic process, was developed in Munich in 1798 by Alois Senefelder (1771-1834). A period of almost twenty years passed before the technique took off in Germany and France. By the 1820s it had also been enthusiastically adopted in Britain, where it replaced the aquatint in popularity.

Lithography works on the basis that water and grease repel each other. The artist used a greasy medium to paint or draw the design on the printing surface before setting it with a solution of acid, followed by gum arabic. The printing surface was originally stone (the term lithography means ‘stone drawing’) but zinc and aluminium were later introduced. The entire surface was moistened with water, which settled into the non-greasy areas only.

When the greasy printing ink was rolled over the stone, it adhered only to the greasy areas, which bore the design, and was repelled elsewhere by the water. Lithographs were printed on a flat-bed scraper press which did not produce a plate-mark on the printed sheet.

In the early years lithographs were often printed with two stones and this was known as tinted lithography. One stone produced the black lines of the drawing while a second stone added a flat fawn-coloured tint as a background. During the 1830s the discovery of how to render tonal effects within a tint encouraged the introduction of a further tint from a third stone, a process known as double-tinted lithography. By adding further stones and tints lithographers soon worked towards full-colour lithography or chromolithography.

Hand-coloured lithograph showing a camel being led, with a colourful adornment of carpets, shawls and ostrich feathers on its back, under which a bride is hiddenHand-coloured lithograph showing a camel conveying a bride to her husbandIn 1821 the explorer and naval officer George Francis Lyon (1795-1832) published this account of his travels in northern Africa, illustrated with plates made after his own drawings.

Lyon had accompanied Joseph Ritchie, secretary to the consul in Paris, on his ill-fated expedition into the African interior. He was keenly interested in the local life and customs of the communities he encountered and sketched. The plate on display depicts a bride, hidden under a layer of carpets, shawls and ostrich feathers, being led to her husband on a camel’s back.

The hand-coloured plates in this volume were lithographed by the firm of Charles Joseph Hullmandel (1789-1850). On his way back from a continental tour in 1817 Hullmandel met the inventor of lithography, Alois Senefelder, in Munich. By early 1819 Hullmandel had set-up his own lithographic press on Great Marlborough Street, London, and soon established himself as the finest lithographic printer in Britain.

He introduced significant technical improvements to the technique, such as the rendering of tonal effects within a tint, and published some important manuals on lithography. In 1835 he created the first real colour lithographs in England for GA Hoskins’s Travels in Ethiopia. He made further advances with his fine chromolithographs for Thomas Shotter Boys’ Picturesque architecture in Paris, Ghent, Antwerp, Rouen (1839).

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