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CHROMO-MANIA! The Art of Chromolithography in Boston, 1840-1910

September 28, 2012 - January 12, 2013


"Chromo-Mania! documents the many splendid contributions that Boston lithographers and artists made to the art."

Sharp & Son, [Victoria Regia: Continued Bloom], 1854. Plate 6 in John Fiske Allen, Victoria Regia: The Great Water Lily of America (Boston, 1854). Chromolithograph. 22 x 29 inches (sheet). Boston Athenæum. Gift of the New England Historical Art Society, 1950

Chromolithographs were an integral part of late nineteenth-century American culture. They hung in homes, businesses, hotels, railroad depots, and even art galleries. They were collected for picture albums, appeared in books and on sheet music covers, and were sent as greeting cards. Yet today, chromolithographs are virtually unknown outside of a small circle of collectors, curators, and dealers.

In conceiving this exhibition and publication, my goal was to acquaint the modern viewer with the medium of chromolithography, an extraordinary and complex printmaking process and a dominant form of color printing in the nineteenth century. The city of Boston played a critical role in the development of chromolithography and Chromo-Mania documents the many splendid contributions that Boston lithographers and artists made to the art. Just as importantly, I have attempted to challenge a long-held belief that chromolithography produced only poor quality, sentimental art reproductions. In fact, as this exhibition demonstrates, the medium was used in a variety of ways, frequently with spectacular and masterful results.

Over the past sixty years, the Prints & Photographs Department of the Boston Athenæum has developed a nationally known collection of Boston and New England chromolithographs. This exhibition was also designed to increase public awareness of the Athenæum’s holdings and to provide greater access to these often fragile works of art.

Catharina Slautterback
Curator of Prints & Photographs