The Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art comprises over 800,000 volumes focused on art documentation (just one of almost thirty specialized libraries at the Met). Our host, Jared Ash, discussed the significance of approximately fifty color illustrated books, folios, magazines, and trade publications, all of which were displayed for conference goers on well-spaced tables, enabling us to carefully turn pages and take many digital photographs.
The items shown represented a range of achievements in color, from the 1780s to the 1980s, including hand-tinted botanical engravings by James Sowerby; theatrical woodblock prints by Utagawa Kunisada; stunning chromolithographs of fall foliage by Philippe Robert in Feuilles d’Automne, photo-mechanical illustrations in the trade magazine The Master Silk Printer; and electrostatic work by contributors to the International Society of Copier Artists, I.S.C.A. Quarterly. Personal highlights were items that featured pochoir, a technique particularly suited to depicting historic costumes, contemporary fashion, and textile designs (Costumes Espagnole by Emile Gallois; Traité d’Enluminure d’Art au Pochoir by Jean Saudé; Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux by Eugene A. Seguy; and Inspirations by André Durenceau. All were tremendous lessons in color theory.
With so many excellent examples before us, the many functions of color printing began to emerge: as a way to render reality before photography, as a method of facsimile, as a means to celebrate and experiment with color (both natural and fanciful), and as a statement of color as form, as we saw in Josef Albers’ 1963 Interaction of Color, presented alongside the 2013 app version for iPad.