11 January to 17 March 2013
When Kitsch Was Art
Colour Printing in the 19th Century

On the basis of 200 colour prints the exhibition “When Kitsch Was Art” narrates the success story of so-called chromolithography in Art Nouveau. The title of the exhibition is to be interpreted literally: many of the sweetly chromolithographs of the 19th century are considered kitsch today, while contemporaries embellished their homes with them. Colour printing is one of the great technical innovations of the 19th century. The developments in printing and publishing between 1840 and 1890 can be compared to today’s digital revolution. The distribution of magazines, books and advertising exploded. Pictures everywhere entertained or informed: in newspapers, school books, on billboards and packaging. They showed beautiful ladies, delightful children, illustrated fairytales, or presented the vistas of cities, factories or vessels. There were colourful menu cards of the royal court in Berlin, wine labels and decorative prints for the living room. Cultural critics observed this development with great concern. They predicted moral decay in this “chromo civilisation”. It is hard to imagine the awe with which contemporaries followed this change. A world devoid of images, as it was at the beginning of the 19th century, is unthinkable today. Before a young generation of artists, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, began to create the modern coloured artist’s print, industrial chromolithographs had already conquered the world. The unbridled enthusiasm for narrative of many prints relates a colourful, detailed and incredibly informative picture of the rosy aspects of the industrial age.

Abb. Walter Crane, The Yellow Dwarf (Der gelbe Zwerg), Crane’s Toy Books. Shilling Series, George Routledge and Sons, London & New York 1878, Edmund Evans, Engraver and Printer, Fleet Street, Farbiger Holzstich, 27 x 23,1 cm, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Foto: MKG