Collotype: A Dying Technique

Collotype: A Dying Technique

Author: Elena Agnese Sorrentino

It has been possible to reproduce marvelous works of art thanks to a technique that, if not fully dead yet, is a dying art for sure. Replaced by the simpler and cheaper lithography, collotype was invented by Alphonse-Louis Poitevin in 1855, with an early application of the process demonstrated by F. Joiubert in 1859. The most important improvements were introduced in 1868 by Joseph Albert and Jakub Husnik.

Indeed, Joseph Albert (1825-1886) applied a thin layer of dichromate gelatine to a frosted glass, hardening it with the exposition to light (the term “collotype” derives from the Greek word “kola”, glue). This process of typographical reproduction depends on the ability of the dichromate of potassium to alter the solubility in water of colloids like albumen, gelatin, and Arabic gum, if exposed to light. Another layer of the same substance was spread on top of the previous to reproduce the image. Two types of inking were used for shadows. This method was also called Albertype or Albertipia, from the name of its inventor. Collotype plates are so precious because they could not be re-used: they were created in limited editions of extremely high quality. The limited-edition prints from colloid ink were stable and they had no chance of fading like other photographic processes of the time.

Important Photographers used the Collotype Process

It is a dying art, but many photographers used the collotype technique as their main photographic medium. For instance, in the 1970s, the photographer Todd Walker used a scholarship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to create an original body of art photographs through the collotype process.

Main Application of the Collotype Process

The collotype process was used for short-run printing editions from photographic negatives. Collotypes were also used for the reproduction of artworks, such as pencil and crayon sketches or watercolor drawings, and for the production of greeting cards, catalog illustrations, advertising displays, and posters. Many early picture postcards were printed using this process.

How to recognize a collotype?

Some smaller hand-painted collotypes, produced in larger quantities, like the aforementioned classical vintage postcards, are quickly recognizable by observing the color-fields that go beyond the outlines of the images.

 Some Famous Examples of Collotypes: Klimt and Schiele

  1. Gustav Klimt: Fünfundzwanzig Handzeichnungen

The complex collotype printing process perfectly rendered Klimt’s remarkably spontaneous drawing style. In particular, we are talking about the original, beautiful, and rare collotypes from “Gustav Klimt: Fünfundzwanzig Handzeichnungen”, a limited-edition collection of 25 collotypes after his drawings. Published by Gilhofer and Ranschburg, Vienna, July 1919, just one year after Klimt's death, this technique perfectly reproduces Klimt's pencil strokes. 

All the works were printed by a Viennese specialist in fine art collotypes, the Kunstanstalt Max Jaffé. The importance of this portfolio lies in the aesthetic achievement of capturing the variations in Klimt's style between 1898 and 1917. These drawings of women are suffused by a veil of sensuality, well-accepted by the Viennese society. Fünfundzwanzig Handzeichnungen is erotic material that would circulate privately among Vienna's upper-class men. The emotional fluidity of Klimt’s erotic drawings created and still creates today an intense psychological reaction in the viewer.

Fünfundzwanzig Handzeichnungen reveals the female world in Klimt's eyes. He meticulously observes both nubile young girls and craggy old women. His drawings demonstrate his unstoppable creative energy and his expertise in the technique.

  1.  Egon Schiele: Handzeichnungen

Another fine art portfolio of collotypes is Handzeichnungen, after original watercolors and drawings by the Austrian artist Egon Schiele. Published by Verlag Eduard Strache, Vienna, Prague, Leipzig, in 1920, in an edition of 510 prints and realized by Max Jaffé in Vienna. The portfolio was printed by Gesellschaft fur Graphische Industrie, Wien VI. Four plates of the collection boast very shiny colors.

Collotypes like those of Klimt and Schiele demonstrate that this technique helped to develop and popularize erotic artworks in Vienna, and especially Klimt and Schiele’s productions.

Admire the collotypes with vivid colors and delicate lines of the two Viennese masters Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele on

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