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Cambridge University Library


Beauty and the Book: Gems of Colour Printing

9 April to 14 September 2002

Walter Crane, Beauty and the Beast, (Routledge, 1874), Engraved and printed by Edmund Evans

Today we are surrounded by colour printed images, on posters, in newspapers, magazines and books, and on the packaging of virtually all our purchases. It is difficult to imagine a time when colour printing was a rarity, difficult and often more expensive than hand colouring.

In the Orient, where printing began, colour printing developed independently from the West and acquired a form and style of its own, especially in Japan. In Europe, early colour printers tried at first to imitate the beautiful art of the scribes before them, by carving a design on wood and then transferring that image onto a page using coloured inks. Printing in colour became widespread with the technical innovations of the nineteenth century and was conspicuous in commercial and decorative areas, such as posters, wallpaper and textiles. But it was between the covers of the book that it achieved its greatest impact and beauty, where artist and printer could demonstrate their skill with freedom and imagination.