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Cliché-verre: Where Printmaking Met Photography

September 13, 2011

The Gardens of Horace by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, Cliché-verre on ivory photographic paper, 367 x 295 mm (image); 377 x 310 mm (sheet), 1855

The MAIC has a current exhibit “Souvenirs of the Barbizon: Photographs, Paintings, and Works on Paper” which has quite a few cliché-verre works on display.  For printmaking geeks, cliché-verre is an unusual form.  The print looks like a pen and ink drawing or a strangely smooth intaglio etching, but these were actually made with an early photographic light exposure process.  Cliché-verre was the historical point where printmaking overlapped the earliest stages of photography.  The Wikipedia entry actually has a great brief description:

Cliché Verre is a combination of art and photography. In brief, it is a method of either etching, painting or drawing on a transparent surface, such as glass, thin paper or film and printing the resulting image on a light sensitive paper in a photographic darkroom. It is a process first practiced by a number of French painters during the early 19th century. The French landscape painter Camille Corot was the best known of these. Some contemporary artists have developed techniques for achieving a variety of line, tone, texture and color by experimenting with film, frosted Mylar, paint and inks and a wide assortment of tools for painting, etching, scratching, rubbing and daubing.

Cliché Verre is French. Cliché is a printing term: a printing plate cast from movable type; while verre means glass.

Cliché Verre was one of the earliest forms of reproducing images before the advent of the camera. As a precursor to photography, Cliché Verre could accurately represent the original scene without the tonal variations available in modern day photography.”

The Barbizon exhibit has a wonderful collection of works of artists working outdoors in the small town and forested area just before Impressionism came around.  The show is open until September 25, 2011 if you are in Chicago and able to go.

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