The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

The Stone Palette: Lithography, the Early Years (1802-1899)

Senefelder lithography press  Photograph courtesy of the Deutsches Museum
Fuchs & Lang lithography press  UA School of Art

August 4, 2009 – October 4, 2009

The term lithography comes from the Greek, lithos “stone,” and grapho “to write,” thus “to write on stone.” The process of “chemical printing” (as the inventor called it) is just that: “writing (drawing) on stone.”

Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in Austria in 1798 and patented as a printing medium in 1799. Originally devised by Senefelder as a process for printing theater scripts, it saw dramatic investigation and refinement in the early 19th-century as both a commercial printing process and as a means for artists to print directly from their drawings to make limited edition prints.

As refinements in drawing materials and chemical processes were made, so were improvements in the presses used to print from stone. Traditional printing methods of the day, flat platen presses for woodcuts and roller presses for etchings, proved ineffective for stone lithography. Senefelder devised an adequate method where a scraper bar was passed over the paper and stone under great pressure.

Subsequent improvements in wood and iron involved a flat bed press which moved the stone and paper under a stationary scraper bar. This method provided sharp and uniform images and has remained virtually unchanged to this day for fine art printing of lithographic prints.

Lithography offered uniquely different opportunities for creative expression when compared to wood cut and intaglio techniques, the two major printmaking methods of the 18th and early 19th century. This exhibition explores 19th-century lithography as a creative medium from the Museum’s permanent collection. It has been curated to complement the exhibition, The Machine Stops (or Inkjet My Foot!), and to provide a historical context from which to consider these works in lithography produced in 2008, 210 years after the invention of the medium.

Read about the related exhibition:

In December, we will present a major exhibition which will survey 20th-century lithography.