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Louis Prang: Innovator, Collaborator, Educator

Prang's Oriental Ceramic Art

  Long considered the pinnacle of Prang's career as a chromolithographer, Oriental Ceramic Art, is a ten volume set of chromolithographs featuring the collection of Asian ceramics owned by Baltimore business owner and collector William T. Walters. Prang himself considered it his "monument." After years of searching the printers in Europe to have his collection reproduced as lithographs, he could not find anyone to create prints to his liking. He then turned to Louis Prang's company, and after seeing a sample of what they could do, he decided that Prang was the man for the job. Prang states in the introduction to Oriental Ceramic Art why he was given the job:

     "The work of every European house of importance was examined before Mr. Prang was asked to make the lithographs of three pieces of porcelain of different colors- his immediate success determined the question, and when two years later some twenty of the plates were shown to French lithographers in Paris, their criticism was that the impressions had been fortified by color from the brush; they could not believe that the work of such excellence could be produced simply by lithography. This very satisfactory opinion has been since confirmed by many lithographers, and it is conceded that these plates represent the highest type of work that has been produced in that branch of art."

blue vase flower pot Satsuma vase tripod censer

     The job took over eight years to produce and half a million dollars in costs. The volumes, which included 116 chromolithographs, 437 black-and-white lithographs, and essays pertaining to Asian art, were produced in an edition of 500 copies at $500 each, making back only half of the production costs. The text was written by Asian art scholar Dr. Stephen W. Bushnell and was published by New York publishing firm D. Appleton & Co.

      Prang commissioned three artists, British painter James Callowhill (1838-1907) and his sons James (1865-1927) and Percy (b. 1873), to Walter's estate in Baltimore, to paint in watercolor the chosen items that would be reproduced as chromos. The Washington Monument, just a short distance from Walter's Baltimore house, can be seen in the reflection of some of the vases. Once the paintings were finished, lithographers at Prang's factory got to work breaking down the color-separation needed to make realistic reproductions. The prints used anywhere from sixteen to forty stones. Though the price of $500 was steep, the entire edition sold out. The paintings were exhibited at the Pratt Institute in New York, and Prang gave talks there and to other organizations describing the process of creating this work.

     By the time Oriental Ceramic Art was finished in 1897, Prang realized that he had taken chromolithography to its highest level with this work. That same year, he merged the art side of his business and formed the Taber-Prang company in Springfield, Massachusetts. The newly-formed company continued to produce art prints until 1937. After this, he dedicated the rest of his career to promoting the Prang Educational Company, enlightening the country on the importance of art education and selling his brand of art supplies.

 For the gallery of all 116 color plates, click here


The American Antiquarian Society's copy of Oriental Ceramic Art was the generous gift Joanne S. Gill in 2014.