Magnus von Wright, Crack Willows on the Waterfront, from Samling af Etuder för Landskaps, Djur och Blomstertecknare, 1839–40, lithograph, 25cm x 32cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Tero Suvilammi

The von Wright Brothers as Lithographic Artists

Erkki Anttonen, PhD, Senior Researcher, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Also published in Erkki Anttonen & Anne-Maria Pennonen (eds.), The von Wright Brothers – Art, Science and Life. Ateneum Publications Vol. 99. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2017, 73–91. Transl. Wif Stenger

The beginning of the history of Finnish lithographic art can be traced back to an entry by artist Magnus von Wright (1805–1868) in his diary from 8 March 1827, where he discusses trying his hand at drawing on stone for the first time while in Stockholm: ‘For the first time I drew on stone. – It was a pencil drawing.’[1]

At the time, lithography was still a new and revolutionary technique. It spread rapidly in the early 19th century, being employed widely for graphic work that required mass production, such as advertising posters, labels, postcards, maps, scientific illustrations, information communication, and in printing. The technique was an instant success in fine art printmaking too. The method had been developed between 1796 and 1798 by Alois Senefelder (1771–1834), an actor and playwright who was born in Prague but who worked in the early years of his career in Bavaria, mostly in Munich.

Lithography is a planographic printing method in which a design is drawn on the smooth surface of a stone block with a greasy crayon, or a sharp pen, or by applying an oily ink wash. Because oil and water repel each other, areas drawn with a greasy medium accept an oil-based printing ink, while the bare, wet surface repels it. The heyday of lithography was the latter half of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. Lithographic print shops were established all over the world, largely by publishers. It was not until the Second World War that the faster and more efficient offset method put an end to the last of the lithographic print houses in Finland.[2]

[1] Wright, Magnus von, 1996, Dagbok 1824–1834. Eds. Anto Leikola, Juhani Lokki, Torsten Stjernberg & Johan Ulfvens. Skrifter utgivna av Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, nr 600:1. Konstnärsbröderna von Wrights dagböcker 1. Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 8 March 1827 (58). The first lithographs of Finland were published 1823–24, when 15 large landscape washes depicting views from southern Finland by Carl von Kügelgen (1772–1832), an artist working in Russia, were printed as lithographs and published by Peter Friedrich Helmersen in St. Petersburg.

[2] For more on the subject, see, e.g., Johannesson, Lena, 1978. Den massproducerade bilden. Ur bildindustrialismens historia. Stockholm: AWE/Geber, 18–24.

Featured image: Magnus von Wright, Crack Willows on the Waterfront, from Samling af Etuder för Landskaps, Djur och Blomstertecknare, 1839–40, lithograph, 25cm x 32cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Tero Suvilammi

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