National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Image: Colorful Impressions: The Printmaking Revolution in Eighteenth-Century France

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery. Please follow the links below for related online resources or visit our current exhibitions schedule.

Image: Louis-Marin Bonnet after François Boucher,Téte de Flore (Head of Flora), 1769  Some 115 French 18th-century color prints, all in very fine impressions, are presented in an exhibition celebrating one of the most innovative periods in the history of color printmaking. During the second half of the 18th century in France, newly invented engraving and etching techniques were combined with new ways of printing a single image from multiple plates. Thus, for the first time, full-color prints could be created from just four basic colors: red, yellow, blue, and black. Within a matter of decades, thousands of images were produced, including some of the most complex and beautiful color prints ever made.

The names of the printmakers who pioneered these techniques--Bonnet, Demarteau, Janinet, Descourtis, and Debucourt, to name a few--are not well known today, but the artists whose compositions they engraved rank among the most famous of the 18th century--Boucher, Watteau, Fragonard, Robert, Boilly, among others. The prints capture the spirit of the times--the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI and the advent of the Revolution--in a unique and highly memorable way. The exhibition complements The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting.