New and On View: Monotypes: Painterly Prints

In principle, the monotype is a simple concept: the artist paints on a plate and transfers it by pressure to a sheet of paper. Yet artists have created prints with endless variety, due in large part to the endless opportunities for personalization that the “simplicity” of the monotype allows. The artist can vary the material of the printing plate, select the medium with which the image is created, change the method of applying pressure, and even make additional changes to the work after the printing process is completed. As a print, the monotype is spontaneous by nature; and because it is a snapshot of an artist's first impulse, it has the unique ability to capture his or her personal artistic vision. Monotypes: Painterly Prints celebrates the variety and personalization that artists can achieve with monotypes.

We can attribute the prints’ “painterly” aesthetics to the transfer process. The result of the transfer is unpredictable, since the artist can never know for sure how the plate, the medium and the paper will interact under pressure. In general, the image is blurred as the drawn edges and boundaries are softened and elided. This unpredictable abstraction is an integral consequence that, when combined with artist’s unique vision, makes the monotype such an expressive and compelling medium. Check out these selections from the exhibition, which will be on view until October 11:

Maurice Prendergast was an essential mover in the revival of the monotype in late 19th century America. Bastille Day was composed in Paris, where he was first exposed to the medium. He produced many monotypes that documented the stylish gatherings of urbanites: here he weaves together the crowd, buildings and light, distilling their essences into an abstract and dreamlike whole.

Maurice Prendergast, Bastille Day, 1892. Monotype in oil colors, Sheet - h:30.50 w:24.80 cm (h:12 w:9 3/4 inches) Image - h:17.40 w:13.10 cm (h:6 13/16 w:5 1/8 inches) Platemark - h:25.50 w:20.00 cm (h:10 w:7 13/16 inches). Gift of The Print Club of Cleveland.


Conversation: Ludovic Halévy and Madame Cardinal (The Conversation) for “La Famille Cardinal” by Ludovic Halévy was planned by Edgar Degas as one of a set of illustrations for the satirical stories La Famille Cardinal by Ludovic Halévy—a good friend of Degas’s. In this print, Halévy meets with Madame Cardinal of the Opéra to arrange for a private rendezvous with one of her two daughters, Pauline and Virginie Cardinal. The story revolves around the ballet culture of late 19th-century Paris, where the dancers were mostly lower-class girls and young women who were available for sexual hire. Conversation is a fine example of Degas drawing the image with a brush and subtracting ink post-print to create lighting effects.

Edgar Degas, Conversation: Ludovic Halévy and Madame Cardinal (The Conversation) for “La Famille Cardinal” by Ludovic Halévy, c. 1880-1883. Monotype, Sheet - h:25.50 w:17.80 cm (h:10 w:7 inches) Platemark - h:21.30 w:16.00 cm (h:8 3/8 w:6 1/4 inches). Gift of The Print Club of Cleveland in honor of Henry Sayles Francis.



Paul Dougherty was known for his dramatic sea and landscapes, here inspired by the rocky coast of Main. The open and abstract style of Seascape, to which watercolor was added by hand after the printing, gives life and animation to the tumultuous waves.


Paul Dougherty, Seascape, c. 1920. Monotype overworked with watercolor, . Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph T. Meals.


> Explore more from our collection of European Painting and Sculpture 

Guest Author

Benjamin Francisco

The Cleveland Museum of Art

Benjamin Francisco is a Cello Performance major at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and an intern in the Communications and Marketing Department at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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