Hue & Cry

French Printmaking and the Debate Over Colors

December 11, 2021–March 6, 2022

Hue & Cry

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Balcony with a Gilded Grotesque Mask

Color lithograph
The Clark Art Institute, 1955.1434

Exploring the surprising but steady opposition to printed color in nineteenth-century France, Hue & Cry showcases the Clark’s extraordinary holdings of French color prints by artists including Pierre Bonnard, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Jules Chéret, Maurice Denis, Camille Pissarro, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Edouard Vuillard.

Brightly colored prints and posters, synonymous with Belle Époque Paris in the 1890s, remain beloved images in our own era. Yet their extreme popular appeal masks the fact that, for a very long time, color in print was an outlier phenomenon. Not only was printed color difficult and expensive to achieve, it was also frowned upon as a matter of aesthetic taste. Value-laden descriptors like “garish, cheap, commercial” became attached to color printmaking, discouraging attempts in this area even after technical advances made it more feasible and affordable.

A century before the “color revolution” of the 1890s, color prints attained a zenith of technical perfection in France, but their popularity did not last. Extremely costly, and intimately associated with the decadence of the monarchy, these exquisite printed confections saw both their relevance and their primary clientele disappear abruptly in the wake of the French Revolution. When color crept back into French printmaking, toward the end of the nineteenth century, its entry was eased by the example of Japanese ukiyo-e prints, then enjoying an immense vogue, and by progressive voices in the art world insisting that any means of expression chosen by an artist should be taken as legitimate. This launched a period of intense experimentation and production that spurred printmakers, seduced by the lure of color, to technically and aesthetically audacious feats. This exhibition explores a wide range of examples, from mass-market poster designs to coveted limited-edition portfolios, by some of the period’s most beloved artists.

Hue & Cry: French Printmaking and the Debate over Colors is organized by the Clark Art Institute and curated by Anne Leonard, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
This exhibition is made possible by Denise Littlefield Sobel.