Featuring prints by the very crème-de-la-crème of British artists working in the 1920s and ‘30s, Contemporary Lithographs Ltd. remains one of the most celebrated art enterprises of the 20th century.
The principle behind the series was simple: commission the best of Britain’s young artists and graphic designers to make auto-lithographs – where the plate is worked on directly by the artist, rather than reproducing a previously existing design – to be printed and sold at reasonable prices, generally to educational institutions, in an attempt to bring quality art out of private homes and galleries and into the public sphere.
detail from Robert Medley’s bold and bright ‘In the Park’
Today, Contemporary Lithographs can be deemed an overwhelming success. Many of its images, such as Robert Medley’s exquisitely coloured In the Park or Barnett Freedman’s Charade, have become iconic, ranking among the artists’ best-known works. Beyond their essential ‘Art for the People’ purpose, these prints would inspire the next generation of young artists not just to look at good art but also to aspire to make it.
detail from Barnett Freedman’s fantastic ‘Charade’
In the words of Ruth Artmonsky, expert historian of the great 20th century lithographic ventures, the Contemporary Lithographs were a landmark in British 20th century printmaking, a pioneer in raising the standards of aesthetic appreciation and, of the various lithographic series of the mid-century, are rated the best…by content, style and, above all, quality of printing.
Because of the nature of their social enterprise, signed lithographs from the series, such as those pictured here, are few and far between. Beautifully produced, highly original, and eminently collectible, they will continue to grace walls for years to come.