Series of prints had existed for centuries, but they became hugely popular in the fin de siècle.
A series, collected under a single heading, offered artists a number of advantages: they could show off their versatility in terms of style and content, illustrate stories and grand themes or — following the example of the Japanese printmaking tradition — explore a single subject from a variety of angles.
Publishers and dealers sold series of prints in portfolios, which collectors could browse at home at their leisure.
Many printmakers based their series on existing texts or on storylines of their own, from literature and scripture to topical themes.
Hermann-Paul and Besnard, for instance, both depicted the stages of growth, blossom and decay in the life of the bourgeois woman, while Dulac drew on texts by St Francis of Assisi for his Symbolist landscapes.
These artists numbered their prints to indicate the sequence, but many series of everyday scenes, for instance, can be admired in any order.
In addition to artistic ends, the print series could serve as promotional material.
By making prints with similar subject matter to their paintings, artists were able to publicise their painted work to a wider public.
Paul Gauguin, for example, produced his Volpini series on the advice of his dealer Theo van Gogh, who sold Gauguin’s paintings.
Although these series were intended as a group, the prints were often sold separately.
Phillip Dennis Cate, ‘From Redon to Rivière. Albums of the 1890s’, in Pat Gilmour, Lasting Impressions. Lithography as Art, London 1988
Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho, ‘The suite: refashioning an old formula’, in Printmaking in Paris. The rage for prints at the fin de siècle, Amsterdam 2012
Britany Salsbury, The Print Portfolio and the Bourgeoisie in Fin-de-Siècle Paris, PhD diss., City University of New York 2015