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Transfer Lithography

Lithography is 'a suggestive art that owes much to the stimulus that the material itself exerts on the artist.'

Redon used the technique of transfer lithography to produce the vast majority of his prints, after the process was suggested to him by Henri Fantin-Latour. Lithography is based on the natural repulsion of water and oil. In transfer lithography the artist draws directly onto paper which has been treated with a gelatine-based substance. This is subsequently dampened and pressed onto the stone (traditionally limestone). The stone is washed with water and printing ink is applied with a roller. This oily ink affixes to the drawn lines, but is resisted by the damp parts of the stone. The image is then printed on a sheet of paper. Because no pressure is applied at the edges of the stone, there is no 'plate mark' around the edge of the image.

La fleur du marécage (detail)

There are several advantages to using transfer paper rather than drawing directly on the surface of the stone. Redon had a particularly fraught relationship with the stone. He wrote: 'The stone is harsh, unpleasant, like a person who has whims and fits ... The future of lithography lies in the resources ... of paper, which transmits so perfectly to the stone the finest and moving inflections of the spirit. The stone will become passive.' Redon did work on the stone though, and frequently altered the image after it had been transferred. He also worked reductively, often scraping away the black ink to give the effect of his images bursting out of the darkness, or of fine rays of light breaking through the shadows. Redon used a number of tools as scrapers, including razor blades and scalpels. The transfer paper was more manageable for artists than the heavy stone and also more flexible, as alterations could be made and mistakes altered. The final image is in a way more truthful to the original image as it appears the same way round, whereas if the artist draws directly on the stone the printed image is reversed.