History and development
Hercules Seghers (1589-1638), a Dutch painter and printmaker, was one of the early artists who experimented with printing in color, on unusual papers (and linen), and with unusual horizontal formats to emphasize the horizon, called. He experimented by using different inks and papers, but reworked his prints by adding accents by hand. Most of his images differ widely from impression to impression, and most are preserved in only a few sheets.
Rembrandt in the 1650s often retouched his plates with drypoint, burin or by burnishing areas to delete some unwanted parts. He also inked and wiped the plate each time differently, reworking some areas by moving around the ink with rags, fingers or paintbrushes. This enabled him to render flames, smoke and rich areas of shadow, creating dramatic darkness and light contrasts. Each impression was virtually different from the previous one.
Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1664) devised a new printmaking process by drawing images directly onto an unetched plate and then pulling a unique impression; he drew white lines with a stick, created tonal areas with his fingers, rugs and brushes, then printed the plate using a press, just like we do today.
William Blake (1757–1827) started experimenting with monotypes. He painted with oil and egg tempera onto a copperplate or piece of millboard from which he pulled prints by pressing the dampened paper against the paint. He then retouched his works by hand with ink and watercolor. Some of the monotypes were used as a guide for overpainting in another media.
But the medium failed to become popular because of its limitation to one print and also because it depended too much on accidental effects and uncontrollable properties of ink when subjected to the heavy pressure of a press.
In the late 1860s when the young impressionists became interested in the creative use of inking. These printing experiments seem to have been influenced by early developments of photography with its black and white contrasts and interplay of positive and negative imagery.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) found monoprints gave him a great deal of artistic freedom. He used the ‘dark field’ method and created very dramatic chiaroscuro effects.
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was one of the artists who became interested in monoprinting after Degas exhibited his prints in the third Impressionist exhibition of 1877. Through experimentation and accidents he created a series of unique impressions, turning his imperfections to his advantage to create effects of light and texture.
Camille Pissarro Vacherie le soir, c. 1890 Monotype in warm black on wove paper sheet
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) worked independently developing his own unique technique called trace monotype. His method consisted of inking a sheet of paper, laying another sheet over it, and drawing on the back of fresh paper thus transferring the ink creating an image in a linear manner. Paul Klee (1879-1940) experimented and mastered this method a few years later in his inventive drawings.
Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924) used this method extensively. He was influenced by Japanese prints. He described his way of making monotypes : “Paint on copper in oils, wiping parts to be white. When the picture suits you, place Japanese paper on it and either press in a printing press or rub with a spoon till it pleases you. Sometimes the second or third plate is the best.”
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) produced hundreds of richly colored monotypes pressing the paper by hand or with a roller on a previously inked and painted metal plate.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Chagall, Miro’, Dubuffet, Matisse and many other contemporary artists produced hundreds of exceptional monotypes, too.