Art Term Tuesday: Chine Collé

Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, Curator of Prints & Drawings

Even those familiar with printmaking may not be acquainted with the technique called chine collé.  In French, Chine means China, referring to delicate papers that were imported to Europe from China, Japan, and India.  Collé means attached in French.  In the 19th century chine collé was used in high quality illustrated books and fine prints.  Traditionally, the artist runs an inked plate, a very lightweight paper, and a thicker paper through the printmaking press together.  As they pass through the press, the image from the plate transfers to the thin paper that adheres to the heavier paper support.  Often printmakers trim the thin paper to the same size as the printing plate, but some cover only a portion of the plate or cut shapes.  This process is used in etching, relief, and lithographs.  Although similar to collage, where materials are glued onto a medium, the printmaking press is key to bonding the paper to the support in chine collé. 

Printmakers are highly particular about their choice of paper for their art, as certain types are more suitable due to the inherent nature of a given printmaking process.  With hundreds of varieties available—all distinct in absorbency, color, weight, and surface qualities—paper plays an important role in the effect of the work. 

Therefore, artists are drawn to chine collé because of its marriage between two papers.  Today, Japanese papers are often used, which are made from the inner bark of kozo, mitsumata, and gampi plants.  Even when damp, these thin papers from kozo, for example, are very strong.  Western papers, which are used for the chine collé paper substrate, are traditionally made from cotton rags.  Chine collé allows artists to print on extremely delicate sheets of paper and still have the sturdy support.

So why use chine collé?  The Fort Wayne Museum of Art owns a number of examples that demonstrate its range of uses.  San Marco shows off William Bailey’s light touch in the cross hatching to achieve subtle tonalities in his tableau of vases and vessels.  By selecting such a thin paper, artists can pull the finest details from the inked plate.  Bailey used an off-white gampi paper with a highly polished surface that set offs his still life versus the matte white support. 

Chine collé adds color to the work, as seen in Fort Wayne artist Chris Ganz’s Minôtauros.  The hulking mythological figure dominates the foreground and his upper torso is bathed in golden sunlight.  Ganz seamlessly integrated a pale yellow chine collé paper into the composition.  The paper imparts warm, glowing highlights that contrast with the cool shadows in the foreground.

An etching of a Minotaur.
Chris Ganz, American, b. 1971. Minôtauros. Etching, aquatint, and chine collé, 2009. Museum purchase with funds provided by Fill the Frame, SC24.2009. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Steven Sorman, an artist included in our Special Collections & Archives, enjoys combining printmaking techniques, paint, collage, and different types of papers.  It is not surprising that he turns to chine collé regularly.  In usual sense the buff colored chine collé paper becomes an important formal element in the work, no longer veiled by the printed image or used simply as a backdrop.  Sorman printed a spare linear composition that extends beyond the borders of the centrally placed chine collé paper.  It contributes to the composition in color, shape, and texture, contrasting with the tooth of the white handmade paper. 

An abstract etching of lines intersecting, suggesting the human body and ribs.
Steven Sorman, American, b. 1948. usual sense. Etching, chine collé , and lapis lazuli watercolor, 1999. Gift of Steven Sorman in memory of David Shapiro, 2014.183.3. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

In Bohemian flats I Sorman first printed dark, looping, ribbons that can be faintly seen through the subsequent chine collé layer.  The artist then overprinted with additional biomorphic shapes that overlap with previous elements to form new colors.  Even the grain of the woodcut is picked up by the Japanese paper.  He takes advantage of the translucency of the chine collé that mutes the underlying colors to create sense of depth.

An abstract etching of lines intersecting, suggesting the human body and ribs.
Steven Sorman, American, b. 1948. Bohemian flats 1. Woodcut, engraving, and chine collé, 1993. Gift of Steven Sorman in memory of David Shapiro, 2014.163.1. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

To learn more about how paper for chine collé is prepared to print, watch Crown Point Press’ video.

To see more prints and drawings from the FWMoA collection, visit the Print & Drawing Study Center Tuesday-Friday, 11am-3pm, or by appointment.

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