JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 3, Article 2 (pp. 272 to 281)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 3, Article 2 (pp. 272 to 281)





Odilon Redon (1840–1916), a French symbolist artist working in the late 19th century, created, in addition to drawings and paintings, more than 200 chine collé lithographs in the course of his artistic career. His use of lithography and chine collé was part of a broader interest in these techniques, which had become popular in the late 19th century. Ignace Fantin- Latour suggested that Redon try lithography in the late 1870s, although Redon had in fact learned the technique in the 1860s from Rodolphe Bresdin. Gott (1990) speculates that it was also, probably, Fantin-Latour who introduced Redon to the professional printing workshop of Lemercier and Cie. Redon subsequently issued all of his lithographs with Lemercier until the late 1870s. Then, from 1887 to 1894 Redon printed all his lithographs with Becquet. However, during 1894 he began to experiment with a range of printers. It was in this period L'Art Celeste was printed by Furstein. After 1894, apart from a few lithographs editioned elsewhere, Auguste Clot and Blanchard printed all of Redon's lithographs (Gott 1990).


Chine collé is a technique used in printmaking. It was first developed in the late 18th century (Jenkins 1990) and is still in use today. According to Jenkins (1990, 46) the process was developed for copper plate line engravings, which required a paper that was “strong enough to take the huge pressure from the wooden roller presses while damp, yet soft enough to take an impression from the delicate shallow lines of the engraved plate.” It was found that by printing the image onto a thin chine attached (during the printing process) to a thick plate paper, prints of unusual delicacy could be created.

The term chine collé means “adhered paper.” Chine refers to the Chinese paper that was used historically as the image-bearing paper, and collé means “paste” or “gum,” indicating that the Chinese paper was adhered to a heavier support paper. In the late 19th century increasing trade with Asia resulted in the availability of a range of thin Chinese papers, sometimes called China papers, which were ideal for use in the chine collé process. This increase in the availability of suitable papers helped to foster the new popularity of the technique. Because of the imperial and trade links between Britain and India, this Chinese product of the East became known in Britain, rather confusingly, as India paper, and the chine collé prints as India proof prints. Jenkins (1990) has compiled a list of many alternative names, all of which refer to the chine collé printmaking technique. For the sake of consistency, in this paper the image-bearing paper is referred to as “chine” and the secondary support paper as “plate paper.”

In making chine collé prints, a layer of size or thin starch adhesive is usually brushed onto the reverse of the chine. This adhesive is allowed to dry and is then reactivated when the paper is dampened prior to printing. This method was in use in the late 19th century (Gott 1990) and may have been the method used to create L'Art Celeste. Other methods of adhering the two sheets include sprinkling starch powder over the reverse of the dampened chine directly prior to printing, or relying on the pressure of the printing process to allow the dampened papers to fuse together. This latter method usually requires that the reverse of the chine be brushed to create a fluffy surface that will more easily adhere to the plate paper (Jenkins 1990). The chine is always the image-bearing paper, though Jenkins (1990, 52) notes: “It is quite common to find the printed image extending beyond the edges of the India paper, either intentionally or unintentionally…. The juxtaposition of the two sheets, the change in tone, the contrast of texture, are therefore a vital and integral part of the composition and should never be disturbed.”


The treatment of chine collé prints is usually considered problematic. The very nature of the chine collé is such that through trying to treat problems such as staining and discoloration, another problem might easily be created—separation of the parts of the print (Petukhova 1987). In treating chine collé prints, all attempts must be made to avoid treatments that might result in the separation of the two sheets forming the chine collé. For this reason, careful planning and a cautious approach to treatment procedures, to avoid any risks to the attachment of the chine and plate paper, are always advised.

However, there are times when the parts of a chine collé become separated (Petukhova 1987; Szczepanowska and Schuettinger 1997) or, as in the case of this Redon print, may already be separated. In such cases, treatment procedures are needed that will result in the successful reunion of the chine and plate paper (McAusland and Stevens 1979; Petukhova 1987; Burns and Potje 1990; Szczepanowska and Schuettinger 1997).


L'Art Celeste, a chine collé lithograph, is a proof before letters, annotated in pencil at the bottom right corner “epreuv 1 Mai. L'Art Celeste” (proof, 1 May. The Celestial Art). It was subsequently printed in an edition of 50. Gott (1990, 43) notes that many of Redon's proofs were preserved “through Redon's habit of making gifts of working and trial proofs to friends and collectors.” The image is printed on a thin, smooth chine (317 × 258 mm) with grain horizontal across the sheet. The grain of the thick wove plate paper (450 × 318 mm) runs vertically down the sheet. Based on a visual study of the 16 chine collé lithographs by Redon, including L'Art Celeste, in the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the papers used in L'Art Celeste seem typical of the papers Redon used to create chine collé. The general appearance of the chines is similar, with the color best described as a gray-yellow, as mentioned by Gott (1990, 27). The plate papers in this group, including L'Art Celeste, are thick and slightly textured wove sheets varying in color from cream to white.

Fibrous impurities, often found in late-19th-century China papers, can be seen in L'Art Celeste and in most of the other Redon chine collé prints examined. Such impurities were conventionally removed by the printer prior to printing. However, it is possible that Redon “may have preferred to leave the paper in its natural imperfect state for aesthetic reasons” (Gott 1990, 27).

The relationship between the chine and plate paper forming a chine collé is critical to the aesthetic appreciation of the artwork, as has been noted previously. In L'Art Celeste the image extends beyond the edges of the chine onto the margins of the plate paper on all four sides, a significant amount compared to other Redon lithographs examined. The surface appearance of the chine can be altered by the texture of the plate paper beneath showing through the chine. This effect is quite obvious in L'Art Celeste and is integral to the appearance of the image. The texture of the plate paper, the quality of the chine, and the extent to which the chine is inked all influence this property.

Copyright © 1998 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works