The Nabis and Printmaking

Bonnard to Vuillard: The Intimate Poetry of Everyday Life-The Nabi Collection of Vicki and Roger Sant (on view through January 26) dives into the artists’ important contributions to the burgeoning field of color lithography. During the period of their close collaboration, they were widely celebrated for their graphic art. The careful process of transferring their sophisticated designs onto lithographic stones required a team of specialists at printing houses. This often included an artiste or dessinateur (draftsman) who translated the original work to the lithographic stone, a chromiste (color specialist) who honed the artist’s palette into a few colors and determined their order for printing, and an essayeur (proofer) who pulled test prints. The paper could vary from traditional French papers to imported Dutch laid papers to the Asian papers popular in Paris at the time.

The Nabis’ bold and inviting designs were much sought-after by commercial print shops, resulting in numerous commissions for posters, theater programs, sheet music covers, and illustrations in book and periodicals. These collaborations placed them at the center of the lively publishing explosion in Paris in the last decade of the 19th century. The exhibition Bonnard to Vuillard features two notable examples of Nabi print albums: L’Estampe originale and Paysages et Intérieurs.

L’Estampe originale, 1893
Complete set of 10 prints on handmade paper
Edition of 100; published by André Marty, printed by Delanchy, Ancourt et Cie

From 1893–1895, Parisian printer André Marty published an ambitious ninevolume series with no fewer than 95 prints by 74 artists in L’Estampe originale (The Original Print). To launch the series, Marty invited the Nabis and some of their associates to create the suite of 12 prints shown here. The color lithographs in L’Estampe originale were the most avant-garde and collectible prints of their day. The cover by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, not a member of the Nabis but very close to the circle, certainly increased the album’s desirability.

L’Estampe originale: Paul Ranson, Tiger in the Jungle (Tigre dans les jungles), 1893, Lithograph printed in three colors, 22 7/8 x 16 1/4 in., The Phillips Collection, Promised gift of Vicki and Roger Sant

L’Estampe originale: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Cover (Lithography [La Lithographie]), 1893, Lithograph printed in six colors 23 x 32 5/8 in., The Phillips Collection, Promised gift of Vicki and Roger Sant

L’Estampe originale: Ker-Xavier Roussel, In the Snow (Dans La Neige), 1893 Lithograph printed in four colors, 23 1/8 x 16 1/8 in., The Phillips Collection, Promised gift of Vicki and Roger Sant

Paysages et Intérieurs, 1899
Complete set of 13 color lithographs on China paper
Edition of 100; published by Ambroise Vollard, printed by Auguste Clot

In the latter 1890s, color lithography continued to flourish under the patronage of Paris dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard and his master printer August Clot. In 1899, Vollard commissioned Vuillard to create a series of 12 vibrantly colored lithographs for the album Paysages et Interieurs (Landscapes and Interiors). The artist worked closely with Clot and expanded his use of color with techniques that may have been unique to Clot’s shop at the time. Prized for their aesthetic qualities and techniques, prints such as these helped elevate the status of color lithography in the 19th century to an artistic medium on par with painting on canvas.

Paysages et Intérieurs: Édouard Vuillard, On the Pont de l’Europe (Sur le Point de l’Europe), 1899, Lithograph printed in four colors, 13 1/8 x 15 1/2 in., The Phillips Collection, Promised gift of Vicki and Roger Sant

Paysages et Intérieurs: Édouard Vuillard, The Pastry Shop (La Patisserie), 1899, Lithograph printed in seven colors, 15 3/4 x 12 3/8 in., The Phillips Collection, Promised gift of Vicki and Roger Sant

Paysages et Intérieurs: Édouard Vuillard, Interior with Pink Wallpaper I (Intérieur aux Tentures Roses I), 1899, Lithograph printed in five colors, 15 3/8 x 12 1/8 in., The Phillips Collection, Promised gift of Vicki and Roger Sant

The Phillips Collects: Sam Gilliam

Sam Gilliam, Purple Antelope Space Squeeze, 1987

Sam Gilliam, Purple Antelope Space Squeeze, 1987, Diptych: Relief, etching, aquatint and collagraph on handmade paper with embossing, hand-painting and hand-painted collage, 41 ½ x 81 ⅝ in., The Phillips Collection, Bequest of the Estate of Marion Goldin

Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1933, Sam Gilliam received his BA and MA from the University of Louisville. In 1962, he moved to Washington, DC, where the Washington Color School led by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, Howard Mehring, and Thomas Downing had flourished. Following a period of figurative painting, Gilliam embraced abstraction and hard-edge geometric designs, and then experimented with expressive pourings. In 1967, The Phillips Collection purchased Gilliam’s Red Petals, and hosted his first solo show. While preparing for this exhibition, Gilliam discovered that by creasing, bunching, or crumpling paper still wet with watercolor, he could create an armature for his color combinations, a kind of drawing to structure his compositions. These experiments also shaped his approach to printmaking.

In the early 1970s, while a visiting artist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Gilliam practiced printmaking with William Weege. In 1987, Weege founded Tandem Press, and Gilliam was the first artist invited to print there. Purple Antelope Space Squeeze is the first editioned work created for Tandem. Gilliam first sent Weege a drawing of the shape he wanted the paper to be, and a mold was made according to those specifications. The initial image was a relief print using carved woodblock elements and lithography inks. Then Gilliam attached handmade paper collage pieces he had painted. A variety of printing techniques followed involving inked and un-inked metal relief plates, steel and zinc etchings, and aquatint plates. Gilliam then hand painted details on the surfaces to prepare them for their final printing while inks from previous runs were still wet. Each impression of the print bears a unique pattern because the artist placed the printing elements in different positions and inked them in a variety of colors. Purple Antelope Space Squeeze is the second print and the eighth work by the artist to enter the collection.

The Phillips Collects: Richard Serra

Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991

Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991, Paintstik over screenprint on Japan paper, 67 x 76 in., ed. 7/46, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Sid Stolz and David Hatfield. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Reykjavik is a silkscreen created with oil-stick at Gemini G.E.L Editions, where Richard Serra (b. 1938) worked frequently during the late 1980s and the early 1990s, developing a process that gives these prints the weight and physical presence of his sculpture. Here, he begins with a single layer of flat black ink applied onto a specially treated paper in the areas to be coated with oil-stick. The rich quality of the work is the result of passing the viscous material through the screen and from using a textured roller over the surface of the print. Serra’s Afangar (1990)—a topological sculpture project on a small island near Reykjavik comprised of nine pairs of black basalt columns cut from local quarries and placed around the island’s periphery—was a source of inspiration for this series of prints. Working on the project prompted Serra to fill many notebooks with drawings, which were later transferred onto small etching plates. Serra turned to silkscreen to achieve on paper a sense of monumental landscape.

Detail of Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991

Detail of Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991. Photo: Kabrea Hayman