It is a strange architect who uses lithographic stones to pave the ground of a home. If it is even an ardent Daumier collector and art dealer, one wonders even more. Yet this is exactly what happened in the 1940s. The collector was the father of J. Frapier who had owned a certain number of stones which were hidden during the German occupation until 1945 in his house in Royan, France. They were later used for construction work at his villa and thus disappeared…
This story (told by Roger Passeron in his 1968 Blois exhibition catalogue on page 11) and the fact that we had found only very few remaining lithographic stones by Daumier enticed us to look into this fascinating medium and working tool. After all, of the approx. 4000 lithographs done by Daumier there ought to be plenty of stones around. We started looking.
Over a period of 8 years we were able to locate only about twenty stones of which the largest collection, 14 stones attributed to Daumier, were originally at the Musée Cantini in Marseille and were now supposed to be at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Marseille. Two of them were shown in a Daumier exhibition in 1947 together with an old lithographic press. To our knowledge, only two stones are presently in private collections, while the remaining four are spread in museums such as Boston, Bibliothèque Nationale, Hammer Collection etc.
On December 20, 2007 we were informed by the curator of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Marseille that indeed the 14 stones mentioned by Cherpin were not part of the Museum’s collection, nor did they belong to the Musée Cantini in Marseille. He believes that these stones were in 1947 most likely part of a private collection and they may have been lent on exhibition during the period described by Cherpin. We are presently trying to collect more information about the whereabouts of these 14 stones.
An article in the 1948 edition of ‘Art et Livres de Provence’, Marseille, p.155/156 describes with some consternation that several of the 14 stones of the Cantini Museum showed remarkable differences in text or printer’s address to the final print published in the Charivari. It seemed difficult to ascertain the reason for these differences and so far the Museum has not found a satisfactory answer to this question.
Let us review for a moment the practice of Daumier’s printing process.
1) Daumier drew directly on the stone. The stone was then hand-delivered to the editor/printer.
2) The printer added a text (which was composed by a journalist). A few prints on “papier mince” were done, one of which was sent for approval to the censor’s office.
3) After approval by the censor, one or two prints were done separately on “papier Chine” for special collectors (with or without text), who cherished the highest printing quality available.
4) In case the editor considered to later use the stone for an album or for single prints, an unknown but relatively small number of prints was done on wove paper (sur blanc) and put aside.
5) Finally the stone was used to print those lithographs which were to appear in the Charivari newspaper.
6) Once the printing process was finished, the drawing on the lithographic stone was erased by hand so the stone could be used again for a new lithograph. In the course of this process, the stones lost their thickness over time from initially some 10 cm to about 3 cm until they became too thin and risked to break. They were finally discarded. This explains why hardly any of the original stones carrying the original image produced by Daumier are left at the present time.
We suspect however that between points 4 and 5 there may have been a step which possibly has been overlooked so far. It has to do with the number of prints executed from the stone:
a) We know from the information contained in www.daumier.org that the Charivari during its heyday averaged a daily output of more than 2000 papers.
–> It would indeed seem strange to assume that the same lithographic stone was used for printing on papier mince, papier chine, sur blanc as well as for newsprint.
b) The editor, Mr. Aubert, would only know AFTER the appearance of a print in his newspaper whether the lithograph was successful with the public. Popular lithographs were reprinted on a better quality paper (wove paper) sur blanc on single sheets and/or sold in albums to collectors at a high price.
–> After having used the stone for 2000 or more newsprints, the lithographic stone must have shown signs of wear and loss of printing quality. It would therefore hardly seem plausible that the printer would have used the same used-up stone for a high quality print on wove paper to be sold in an expensive album.
We therefore must assume – and this was confirmed by several printing specialists we recently contacted – that the ‘original stone’ was marked on the side with a colour code for later identification and set aside in a depot right from the beginning as a reserve for an eventual use at a later date.
Since the early 19th century printers had developed ways to produce copies from an original lithographic stone. The system, described in detail by. F. Brunner in his “Handbook of Graphic Reproduction Processes” was called transfer stone or autographic stone. A sheet of rubber, special transfer-paper or even animal skin was prepared in such a way that a copy could be made from the ‘original stone’ and transferred onto a second ‘autographic stone’.
The pressure of a daily newspaper production process must have been the reason for a certain negligence in the details. Differences in size of the print which appeared on the two stones as well as a certain loss in print quality seemed to be almost unavoidable. This is clearly visible when comparing the stone with a sur blanc print and a Charivari print of the same lithograph. It occurred that sometimes parts of the address on the newspaper print (located underneath the image) looked faded or slightly “squashed”, a typical result of the use of a transfer stone.
Going back to the observations of the Musée Cantini mentioned above, the answer now seems evident: The editor/printer Aubert may have lent (against a fee) the original stone to another printer who wanted to use the image to produce a separate album on wove paper. Naturally he would have replaced Aubert’s address with his own; he may also have changed parts of the caption to fit his purpose.
The above explanations show how important it is to carefully evaluate various criteria of a lithographic stone offered on the art market. Is it the original or an “autographic stone”? Or could it even be a recent copy that has been used to do a modern reprint? In our opinion an old autographic stone should still be considered a collectors item, although it is not an original (like the mother-stone).
The age of a print on a lithographic stone should be examined. Nowadays an experienced lithographer can easily transfer an old Daumier print as an (almost) identical image onto an old lithographic stone (German: Umdruckverfahren). Some of the quality will possibly get lost and some details may appear “squashed”. For demonstration purposes such an experiment was done by Dr. J. Albrecht in his publication for the 1996 Daumier Exhibition in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. (p. 28/29) where he did a (clearly marked) reprint of DR 763 from a transfer stone.
Obviously, the price difference between originals (mother stones) and copy stones (autographic stones) is remarkable. An original Daumier lithographic stone must be considered being as rare as a drawing by Daumier, since that is exactly what it represents. Depending on the importance or beauty of the subject it can easily reach a six figure price level. The last sale of one of these stones we were able to trace back was sold for 40’000 Swiss Francs in the 1960’s at an auction (equivalent at that time’s exchange rate to about 10’000 US $). An autographic stone however is just a reprint on a stone from the same period, which has been transferred by use of a carrier such as a transfer paper. As shown above, such a stone should no longer be considered an original. Lately a number of stones were sold for about 160 $ a piece by an auction house in the Netherlands. The price level seems to suggest that they may have been autographic stones.
Original lithographic stones by Daumier are as close as one can possibly get to see, touch and understand Daumier’s lithographic oeuvre. It will be in the collector’s interest however to ascertain that a stone which is offered meets the criteria described above. Besides establishing the age of the stone (which can be a rather harmful process) one should carefully examine the printing result and pay attention to eventual differences in size, depth and appearance between the drawing on the stone and the finished print versions on newspaper and sur blanc. Often the newspaper version will show loss of details still found on the sur blanc version. If the sur blanc print is identical with the stone image, chances are good that this is the “mother stone” (which was reserved especially for sur blanc prints). If it were an autographic stone, one would most likely be able to see the losses in detail which had occurred during the transfer.
Other aspects of importance are the grain of the stone, the origin and quality of the printing colour used, the provenance (going as far back as possible in the history of the stone) to name just a few.
As so often in Daumier’s oeuvre one can assume that fakes would be done from attractive themes such as lawyers, doctors, genre-scenes, which would sell easily. This holds true for lithographs but also for stones. Therefore one should be careful if such stones are being offered; they might have been produced recently with the intention of making modern reprints of popular themes. Political scenes or more general, unattractive topics however would hardly entice a forger to spend time and effort, since such stones would be rather difficult to sell.
Thus most of the stones found in museums can with very few exceptions be considered thematically ‘coincidental’, as they should be.
In case of doubt, the opinion of an expert might shed some light. An experienced printer who is still familiar with working on an old lithographic printing press may be of great help. We have been very fortunate to have found several who proved to be extremely knowledgeable in this matter. These printers look at the stones with the eye of an artisan/craftsman rather than an art historian and they have a practical way of tackling the problem. Another expert could be an art historian or a curator who could explain the possible historic traps.
In any case, the old recommendation is valid here too: Buyer beware!
Maybe Mr. Frapier knew exactly what he was doing when using his lithographic stones for flooring…?
DR 3247 – Illustration of a lithographic “motherstone” (Private Collection)
Lithograph by Bourdet, Charivari August 6, 1835 showing lithographic stones. Photo with kind permission by Pierre E., Bordeaux, collector.