Artists in the fin-de-siècle were more involved than ever in the creation of their prints.
However, techniques like colour lithography were so complex that intensive collaboration with a professional printer was essential.
They made a long series of trial proofs together, which offer an insight into the laborious process from preparatory drawing to final print.
The Van Gogh Museum has a substantial collection of prints like this, from a first impression in black pulled from the key stone to experiments with different shades of ink and coloured chalk.
Unique Collectors' Items
While the final edition was often printed in a run of a hundred, the trial proof was unique, which made prints like this highly desirable to collectors.
Artists and printers made clever use of this interest by carefully preserving their trial proofs and signing them for the trade.
Ideally, the artist and printer worked side by side at the press. In practice, however, it was often necessary to communicate from a distance.
The master printer Auguste Clot maintained an intensive dialogue with his artists through countless trial proofs.
The artist scribbled instructions or drew corrections on the proof in chalk, which Clot then incorporated in a fresh proof, and so on.
Only when the artist was entirely happy did he give his go-ahead for final printing with the words ‘bon à tirer’.
Pat Gilmour (ed.), Lasting Impressions. Lithography as Art, Philadelphia 1988
Marije Vellekoop, ‘Een kijkje in de werkplaats. De techniek van de prentkunst’, in Prentkunst in Parijs: De rage van het fin de siècle, Amsterdam 2013, p. 44-73
Gilles Genty, Véronique Serrano, L'oeil d'un collectionneur: Les peintres graveurs Bonnard, Vuillard & les Nabis, Milan 2014