Wednesday, January 13, 2021

494. Swimmers and Others in Grey and in Sanguine (2)

Charles Hazelwood Shannon often made impressions of his lithographs in different colours. A large part of his lithographs (45 out of 96) were only printed in one colour (or combination of colours), but of the majority of his lithographs, impressions in two, three or even four colours can be compared. As mentioned last week (blog no. 493), these are not different states – the image is the same. 

Charles Shannon, 'The Snow. Winter' (1907): impression in dark green
[Image: British Museum, London: 1949,0411.888.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

Where Shannon got the idea to print different prints in distinctive colours is not known. However, multicoloured lithos were no exception; on the contrary: from the 1890s onwards, multicoloured lithographs were fashionable, particularly in France, as Camille Pissarro noted in 1896. Shannon’s great example James McNeill Whistler made some experiments in multicoloured lithographs. However, the simultaneous publication of different coloured issues of one and the same print was not common at all. His colleague and friend William Rothenstein (for example) only rarely printed a few proofs in colours other than black, but all his published lithographs were printed in black only.

Charles Shannon, 'The Snow. Winter' (1907): impression in blue
[Image: British Museum, London: 1908,0403.7.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

From the very beginning, Shannon decided to print different issues, starting with his second lithograph in 1890, 'The Cellist'. There were fifteen impressions in black or in green ink. (The first lithograph, 'The Vale in the Snow' was printed in eight impressions only, all in grey.) Soon, editions would grow to twenty-five copies; forty to fifty impressions became the standard edition size for Shannon's lithographs.


Shannon had his own lithographic printing press, but sometimes hired assistants for the various operations needed to print a lithograph, such as the preparation of the stone, sponging it with a mixture of gum arabic and acid, moistening the surface, applying the ink, arranging the paper, and printing the lithograph. After each impression the printing surface of the stone had to be re-dampened and re-inked. 

(Below, we follow the numbering and descriptions of Paul Delaney's 1978 catalogue The Lithographs of Charles Shannon; excluded are magazine publications; included are the proofs for lithographs nos. 12, 19, 64, 65, 66 and 73).

Only one impression exists of forty-five of Shannon's lithographs; these were printed in black, dark green, grey, delicate grey, silvery grey, grey-black, sanguine, or in a combination of black, buff, dark green and yellow, the last one being the exceptionally large lithograph (no. 87) 'The Re-Birth of the Arts' which was not printed in his own studio and issued as part of a series of lithographs during the Great War.


Of course, it is no simple matter to distinguish between the different shades of grey and green. Limiting the nomenclature to basic colours, we find that Shannon had an absolute preference for grey (37 lithos) and black (5). Green and red only occur once each in this group of 45 lithographs.

Charles Shannon, 'Self-Portrait' (1918)
[Image: British Museum, London: 1925,1109.1.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

The second group consists of lithographs of which Shannon made two impressions in different colours. In this group of 34 lithographs more colours occur: bistre, black, blue, dark brown, green, dark green, grey, grey-black, grey-green, sanguine and sepia; four lithographs display combinations of (dark) blue and buff or buff and green. His preference (within this group) is sanguine (18), followed by black (15) and green (11). Grey variants only occur in eleven lithographs.  Brown and sepia are the exceptions (two each). The most commonly used set of colours is black and sanguine: of nine lithographs, both black and sanguine impressions were printed.


The third group consists of fourteen lithographs of which three different issues have been created. The colour palette for this group consists of black, blue, dark blue, brown, green, dark green, grey, dark grey, grey-black, red, and sanguine (not sure how to distinguish between the last two). The main colours are green (12 lithographs), black (8), and sanguine (7), equal to grey (7), and followed by blue (5), and finally brown (3).

There is one hard to date lithograph (no. 96, c. 1919) of which even four different coloured impressions are in circulation: there are prints in black, brown, green and sanguine. Two other lithographs (nos. 71-72) are printed either in black, blue, green or sanguine.


The entire set of lithographs shows that grey has indeed been the constant favourite. Prints in that colour occur a total of 52 times. In second place is black (31), followed by sanguine (29) and green (27). Blue (11) and brown (6) are less popular and at the back comes sepia which has only been chosen for two lithographs. Combinations of several colours occur a total of nine times.

Charles Shannon, 'The Wayfarers' (1904)
[Image: British Museum, London: 2019,7015.614.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

If Shannon intended to achieve certain effects using different colours, it seems logical to make a link with genre. There is one landscape, and there are thirteen portraits; there are interior scenes (including domestic scenes), this is a large group of 33 lithographs. There are outdoor scenes with children, women and sometimes men, mostly garden or beach scenes: 30 lithographs. Similar scenes with male nudes occur only five times. There are other outdoor scenes, depicting vintages and harvest (six lithographs) and there is a small group of mythical, biblical and classical themes (eight), but some of these can also be classified with the other groups.

No relation between colour and genre can be established. Grey has been used for all subjects; black and sanguine for six out of seven subjects, and almost all colours appear from the beginning to the end. Shannon must have liked the differences enough to continue publishing alternatively coloured prints during his whole career. He further varied by using different papers. 


Again, there may be more information now, but based on Delaney's 1978 catalogue we only know the type and colour of paper for twenty-eight lithographs, only a third of Shannon's production. The colours were neutral, certainly not outspoken: cream, white, buff, or grey-toned. There was Van Gelder paper (fourteen lithographs: nos. 10, 15-16, 35-39, 45, 49, 73, 76-78); additionally of certain lithographs it is known that most impressions were on Van Gelder paper as well (nos. 11, 14, 53). Spalding laid paper was used at least once (no. 13). Other anonymous papers were laid paper (no. 9, 52), Chine appliqué (no. 18), wove paper, some of it 'very fine' (nos. 19, 38-39, 61-63, 67, 73-74, 76-78), and wood-grained paper (no. 74). Once he used another material: parchment (no. 73). Favourite paper was Van Gelder.

To conclude: Charles Shannon ensured that his lithographs were printed in different ways by varying the types and colours of paper, but above all by making impressions in several colours of more than half of his lithographs - sometimes as many as four different colours. One could decorate a 'grey room', but just as well a 'red room', or a 'green room'. The 'sepia room' could be a very small one.