The Philadelphia Print Shop

Chromolithography: The Art of Color
Currier & Ives

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While Currier & Ives are best known for their hand-colored lithographs, the firm did issue an impressive range of chromolithographs. In the 1860s, Currier & Ives produced a few chromos of similar style to those by Prang, using images by A.F. Tait and other American artists. Though their prints were of nice quality, Currier & Ives do not seem to have been successful in competing with the Boston publisher, for the hand-colored lithographs remained their main staple.

Beginning in the late 1870s, and especially after 1880 when Nathaniel Currier retired, the firm began to produce large folio images "printed in oil colors." Currier & Ives did not go after the "art" market (which reproduced oils and watercolors) that Prang so dominated, but instead used this medium to make prints of a "popular" style like the rest of their output. Chromolithography allowed the firm to produce larger, colored prints at a still affordable price, and they seemed to have been quite successful in this market niche: the list of the later chromolithographs produced by the firm is quite extensive. The two most common subjects for these large Currier & Ives chromolithographs were horse-racing and ships, though the medium also proved well-suited to their now-controversial Darktown series.

Currier & Ives' Darktown Series

Currier & Darktown, Copped at a Cock Fight  Currier &Ives Darktown, Mule Train

Creating a segregated community of black Americans, Darktown prints showcased a full array of negative stereotypes of former slaves who moved north after the Civil War. Portrayed as mentally slow, physically grotesque, and morally inept, African Americans became comical figures to the primarily white consumers of Currier and Ives prints. True to the period's nativist overtones, the Darktown series was accompanied by similar prints lampooning Irish and Italian immigrants, as well as Roman Catholics. Popular prints were made to satisfy popular demand; as such, this series bears a painfully vivid testament to the racial attitudes of white, middle-class Americans of the late nineteenth century.

GoGo to page with complete listing of Currier & Ives Darktown prints


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