In December 2014, AAS member Joanne S. Gill gave the Society a copy of Louis Prang’s Oriental Ceramic Art, published in 1897. The work, in four volumes, describes the collection of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean ceramics collected by William T. Walters of Baltimore, now housed along with some of the original Prang watercolors in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. Though many institutions have copies of Oriental Ceramic Art, as far as we have been able to tell, our new resource in the Louis Prang online exhibition shows together, for the first time online, all 116 color plates included in the set.
Oriental Ceramic Art came about as Baltimore businessman William T. Walters searched for an art house to recreate his collection of Asian ceramics in printed form. After years of disappointment in the European printers, Walters searched back in the United States for a printer. In 1889 he commissioned Louis Prang and Company to reproduce his physical collection as chromolithographs after Prang showed him samples of what the work would look like. Prang sent British ceramic painters James Callowhill and his sons James and Percy to Walter’s house in Baltimore to paint original watercolors that would be used by the chromists in Boston to reproduce them as chromolithographs, sometimes using as many as forty stones, or colors. After more than eight years (and Walters’ death in 1894), the set, along with text by Dr. Stephen W. Bushnell and 437 black and white lithographs of the rest of Walter’s collection, was ready to be published. Walters had given Prang $500,000 to produce this work, and only 500 copies were made, at a price of $500 per set, meaning only half of the production costs were recouped in sales. Prang considered this work the pinnacle of his career, and retired from the printing business in 1897.