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Saturday, December 4, 2010


Moulin Rouge--La Gouloue,
1891, Henri de Toulous-Lautrec
A tour of popular art galleries today will reveal dozens, perhaps hundreds of fine art prints among the original oil/acrylic paintings. In fact, in some galleries, you'll hardly find any original work at all. The originals are too expensive. Even the prints often sell for prices well into the hundreds of dollars. Prints have always been a way artist could cater to the market for inexpensive, framable art. Etchings go back well into the 17th-century and in later years, were a means of bringing reproductions of famous masterpieces to the attention of the general public. Of course these were always black and white reproductions (unless in rare instances when they were hand-colored).   
Color reproductions were largely the product of the last decades of the nineteenth century when there developed a fondness on the part of the public for advertising posters designed by artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. These posters often disappeared from the walls of the city almost as soon as they were put up. They were, in a sense, "free" artwork--instant collectibles. And, of course, even today, collectors relish posters, advertising everything from movies to art exhibits. There is a certain "chic" quality to the well-chosen, well-mounted poster that somehow seems less pretentious than an original oil painting.   

Love or Duty, 1873,
Gabriele Castagnola
Art collectors of color reproductions are indebted to a French artist by the name of Jules Cheret for his invention of Chromolithography around 1866. Initially his work was largely commercial--menus, a few book illustrations, and especially posters. By 1884 however, his posters were being chronicled by art historians such as Joris-Karl Huysman who advised his readers to collect them rather than paintings. Soon, however, they could, in a sense, do both, as established painters began creating works of art specifically for Cheret's printing process. And, like those before them who had used the medium of etching to bring reproductions of works by famous artists to the general public, so artists such as Cezanne, Renoir, Whistler, Gauguin, Pissarro, Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard found themselves creating lithographic copies of famous paintings, as well as their own.   

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