On Wednesday, March 14, 2012, the print exhibition With a French Accent, French and American Lithography to 1860 will open at the Davis Museum of Wellesley College. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the collection of the American Antiquarian Society and explores the influence of French expertise and design on American popular lithographic print production and consumption in the United States.
Work on the project began under the dome at AAS in 1995, when Georgia Barnhill and Lauren Hewes became interested in the possibility of studying French contributions to American lithography. They compiled a list of nearly one hundred names of French-born or French-trained lithographers active in the United States during the antebellum period, scoured archives for journal entries, customs paperwork, and ship manifests left behind by Americans traveling to Paris to learn the process, and gathered American newspaper reports about the dissemination of the technology. They looked at hundreds of lithographs in the Society’s collection, as well as prints held by other institutions here in the United States and in France.
In the 1820s, several American artists and publishers traveled to Paris and returned with lithographic equipment, prints, and practical knowledge. A decade later, experienced French lithographic pressmen and artists immigrated to the United States to work in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. At the same time, imported French lithographs could be purchased from American booksellers and fancy good shops, entrepreneurs were buying prints wholesale in Paris and reselling them in places like Baltimore and Milwaukee, and American lithographers copied popular French images and adapted them for the local audience.
By the 1850s, several French lithographic firms opened offices in New York City. They sold a variety of lithographs, all made in France, including sheets drawn from their European stock, as well as specially published views of United States cities, and genre scenes by popular American artists like William Sydney Mount. French lithographic influence was diverse and wide spread and raised the quality of American production while presenting inventive possibilities which echoed through the art of lithography as it continued to evolve in the United States.
The exhibition will run through June 3, 2012, and is being held in the Morelle Lasky Levine ’56 Works on Paper Gallery at the Davis Museum. It is free and open to the public. A symposium, French and American Lithography: History and Practice, will be held at Wellesley on Saturday, March 31 from 9:00 to 4:00. This program is co-hosted by the Davis and the American Antiquarian Society and will explore transnational interconnection, particularly the impact of artistic exchange between France and the United States on American lithography through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and into contemporary practice. This daylong event features a range of talks by exhibition curators Georgia B. Barnhill and Lauren B. Hewes, and visiting scholars Marie-Stephanie Delmaire and Catherine Wilcox Titus, and lithography demonstrations by a visiting artists and a master printer.
Research for this exhibition and the accompanying publication was made possible by the Florence Gould Foundation of New York. At the Davis, this exhibition was made possible through generous support from the Marjorie Schechter Bronfman ’38 and Gerald Bronfman Endowment for Works on Paper. The conference weekend is generously supported by Jay and Deborah Last, Wellesley College Friends of Art, and the Grace Slack McNeil Program for Studies in American Art.