I recently purchased a Victorian picture album. I use the word picture because it doesn’t contain photographs or drawings but chromo-lithographs. I had no idea what they were at the time but the pictures are so Victorian, so romantic, so atmospheric, that they had to be added to my collection.
There are 240 of them in the album, each one measuring approximately 5 by 3 inches. It has a heavy, decorative cover and gold-edged pages, so must have been very expensive in its day, the 1890s. The views are of well-known beauty and tourist spots of Britain ….. London, Jersey, Killarney, the Lake District, Edinburgh and many more.
What makes the pictures unusual is their colour, which is intense, absurdly unnatural and yet visually striking and the texture which is almost like an oil painting. I’m still researching the chrome-lithographic process but it seems that the first step was for an artist to draw the picture on a block of perfectly flat stone, yes, a stone! The names of the artists are probably lost in the mists of time but, apparently, many very talented artists created chromo-lithographs for publishers as a ‘way in’ to the commercial art market. The drawing was just the start. This was followed by applying various chemicals to the stone to create an etching. The final picture was produced by the painstaking, time-consuming, highly skilled process of printing (using a press) the colours, one at a time. In the best examples, this involved up to forty different pressings per picture. Chromo-lithography was used until the early 1900s, when it was replaced by the much quicker and cheaper colour printing process.
The views shown here are the Tower of London, the Chapel of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh and the Corbiere Lighthouse in Jersey. Amazing!