First, what is a Linocut?
Let’s start with the basics. Linocut printmaking is an artistic process. Specifically, a linocut is a type of relief print. The artist first carves an image into a block of linoleum, then ink is rolled onto the uncut surface of the block and, finally, paper is laid on top of the block and pressure is applied to produce a print. It’s also known as a lino print or linoleum block print.
Your most common association of linoleum might be as a type of flooring or perhaps you were introduced to the art form in middle or high school. Nowadays, practitioners buy pieces of linoleum made specifically for art. One of the most common types of art linoleum is called battleship gray linoleum. It’s about an 1/8th” thick and has a burlap backing. Linoleum is different than wood in that it’s a little softer and doesn’t have grain. It’s not to be confused with softer, easier to carve rubber blocks
Part of my mission is to explore the rich history of linocut and shed light on some famous lino print artists, including their methods and artwork. I also want to play with and push back against the ideas that linoleum is just for students and amateurs, that it’s subordinate to the woodcut, and that it’s “easily mastered” (Yeaton 11). These are sentiments sometimes found in the historical literature of the art form.
History of Lino Printing
Linoleum was invented by Frederick Walton (UK) in the mid-1800’s, first patenting the material in 1860. At that time, its main use was that of a floor material, and later in the 1800’s as actual wallpaper. However, by the 1890’s artists had started to use it as an artistic medium.
From my research so far, the transition of linoleum from flooring and wallpaper to printmaking material does not seem to be thoroughly documented. There also seems to be discrepancies within the available literature on the matter. Germany, Austria (through Franz Cizek) and the United States seem to have been amongst the first to turn to linoleum for creating art around the turn of the 20th century.
The Word for Linocut in Different Countries, Languages and Eras
If you’re researching linocut or even just scrolling through Instagram these days, you’ll notice that the word used for ‘linocut’ is different depending on the language or country. Lino print, linoleum block print, linolschnitt, linograbado, and linogravure, are just a few examples. Sometimes, particularly early on, the more general term of ‘block print’ was used to describe a work that could have been a woodcut or linocut.
Further Reading about the First Uses of Linoleum for Printing
This page is an evolving document about the history of lino printing, I have found these sources to be helpful in identifying key dates in the early history of the art form.
- The Relief Print: Woodcut, Wood Engraving & Linoleum Cut by Watson and Kent (1945) – mentions that linoleum was used for printing wallpaper in Germany, “as early as 1890.”
- Colour Block Print Making from Linoleum Blocks by Hesketh Hubbard (1927) – notes that linoleum was used instead of wood in Germany by the end of the 1800s.
- Lino-Cuts: a Hand-Book of Linoleum-Cut Colour Printing by Claude Flight (1927) – says that Cizek was the first European (“of any standing”) to use lino for printing using European methods.
- The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art edited by Gerald W. R. Ward (2008) – mentions that linoleum was used for printing on wallpaper in Germany in 1890. Then by artists in the early 1900’s. Notes the importance of Cizek.
- Vienna was amongst the first places where linoleum was used for art. This essay in Schirn Mag gives a nice summary of the relief printmaking movement there around 1900. Though it focuses on the woodcut, it includes Hugo Henneberg’s linocut called, Night Scene – Blue Pond from 1904.
- The best history of lino printing I’ve found so far is a wonderfully detailed account by Andrea Tietze, titled, “The linocut in history and in the art of the modern age.” It’s found in Linoleum: History, Design, Architecture, 1882-2000 by Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz (2000).
The early Linocut (linoleum) artworks of the artist Amgad Edward from 1996 to 2000
Linocut Art from 1895-1920
Early artists who dabbled in lino printing in its infancy included both painters and woodblock printmakers who were experimenting with a different material for relief printmaking. Some of the earliest lino prints I’ve found were used for books and periodical covers.
The first linocuts that I’ve been able to find through trustworthy sources (like major museum collections around the world) have been from the United States. I’d like to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the United States was the first adopt linoleum. I’ve found two linocuts from 1895 from US artists (Will H. Bradley and San Francisco’s Bruce Porter).
references : https://www.boardingallrows.com