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Monotype has also been called “the painterly print”. As its name suggests, it is special among printmaking techniques in producing (in general) a single impression. There is no permanent matrix, reprintable in identical impressions. The image has the style, immediacy and uniqueness of the painted sketch. The printed image is transferred from an ephemeral drawing. The artist paints his design with printing inks onto a copper or glass plate. Fresh paper is placed on top and the image is printed by hand pressure in a similar way to a colour woodcut. Most of the ink is transferred in the initial printing and it is only rarely that a second impression is possible, and then it reads as a pale ghost of the first (known as a maculature).

Giovanni Battista Castiglione (1616-1670):
Detail from one of his ‘dark-field’
monotypes, c1642

Though largely a modern colour technique, monotype was first used in the 17th century to exploit painterly chiaroscuro effects in monochrome. It was possibly Rembrandt’s experiments with tonal inking of some of his etchings that inspired his Genoese admirer Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (see detail, left) to make his twenty-two known monotypes between the years 1640 and 1660.  However, Castiglione’s own etchings are clean-wiped with an open line, with none of the dramatic effects of his monotypes. Castiglione worked in both the ‘dark-field’ and ‘light-field’ manners. In dark field, the artist coats the surface of the plate with ink and conjures up his image by thinning and wiping the ink away with rags or stiff brushes, in a reductive manner like mezzotint. In light field the design is painted additively onto the copper surface. Castiglione had no immediate followers.

Monotype was independently re-discovered in the 1870’s. In the 1860’s Adolph Appian and Ludovic Lepic experimented in printing their etched plates with dramatic effects of light and dark by manipulating ink selectively left on the surface. In the 1870’s Degas worked his whole image with the ink on the surface of the copper, with no preliminary etching. Several of the other Impressionists tried the new medium, Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, and Gauguin.

Ernest Laurent (1859–1929): Reclining Nude 

Ernest Laurent (1859–1929): "Reclining Nude". 
Colour monotype, c1900.  (160 x 240 mm)

Though Whistler never made monotypes, he etched the Venice set (1879-80) with minimal lines and printed the impressions with much varied plate tone to arrive at atmospheric effects related to monotype. Whistler was friendly in Venice with his compatriots Frank Duveneck and Otto Bacher, who were experimenting with monotype at the time and took the technique back to America, where it has been most extensively practised.

In England the technique was not widely tried till the 1940’s and 50’s but the Grosvenor School artists, Cyril Power and Sybil Andrews, anticipated the interest in the early 1930’s and exhibited colour monotypes alongside their colour linocuts.

Frank L Emanuel (1865–1948): A lowering Afternoon. Monotype, 1920. (153 x 202 mm)

Frank L Emanuel (1865–1948):
"A lowering Afternoon".  Monotype, 1920. 
(153 x 202 mm)

The smooth polished surface of copper or glass takes pigment in a different way to absorbent canvas or paper and when printed these textural variations in brushmark and ink thickness become significant marks unattainable in any other technique; a confirmation of printmaking as a distinctive artistic medium for the creation of original works of arts and not just a way of obtaining multiple impressions.


Caroline Lucas (c1880–1967): Figure at a Table. Colour monotype, c1940. (300 x 205 mm)

Caroline Lucas (c1880–1967): "Figure at a Table". 
Colour monotype, c1940.  (300 x 205 mm)







Robert Colquhoun (1914–1962): Woman and Cat

Robert Colquhoun (1914–1962): "Woman and Cat".
Off-set monotype, 1946.  (520 x 422 mm)

Paul Klee devised the process of off-set monotype, 1919-23. Jankel Adler introduced it to Colquhoun, when they shared a house in London in the early 1940’s. Rather like a counterproof, the image reads in the same direction as drawn on the matrix, and not in reverse as would normally be the case.











See also :


Colour Lithography


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