Art Terminology

At we’re committed to providing you with as much information as possible about the artwork you buy. In this section you’ll find definitions of the most frequently used art terms.


The term “original” can be confusing when applied to works of art on paper. Generally, a piece is defined as original if the artist of the design has worked on the printing element himself, as opposed to those reproductive or interpretive prints in which an intermediary is responsible for replicating an artist’s design on a printing element. In those situations in which the artist is at a remove from the actual production of a work on paper, the designation of an “after” usually follows. The practice of producing “afters” was a popular one with many important nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists, as the following examples illustrate.

Paintings have often been popular sources for duplication on paper, as in the case of Joan Miro’s original painting The Coffee Grinder, which was executed in 1919.  In 1954, a skilled French printer named Visat was commissioned to produce an engraving of the piece which was in turn transferred onto BFK Rives paper. Miro was consulted and approved the final image as a faithful reproduction of his own work, and he also signed and numbered the resulting edition of 300 original prints that was published by Maeght, Paris. Visat’s name appears as part of the engraving itself, identifying him as the printer. As is common with the production of “afters,” Visat’s version of ‘The Coffee Grinder‘ greatly expanded the collectability of an original work of art far beyond its initial conception as a single painting.

Another famous series of “afters” involves the artist Marc Chagall and his longtime friend and collaborator, Charles Sorlier. Chagall began experimenting with the technique of lithography in 1950, as consumer demand grew for him to produce original works of art at affordable prices.  He eventually became a gifted lithographer at the atelier of Fernand Mourlot in Paris, but Sorlier, who had been recommended as a printer to Chagall, was matchless in his skill, especially as a colorist.

The two men embarked on a decades-long series of collaborations in which Sorlier was entrusted to reproduce a number of Chagall’s original paintings in print; the duo also produced many original works together in which Chagall supplied the lithographic design and Sorlier pulled the prints themselves.

The results are some of the most highly sought-after works in Chagall’s oeuvre, including the famous Carmen based on Chagall’s design for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and the spectacular Jerusalem Windows series, which Chagall had originally designed as stained-glass windows for the synagogue of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center. Chagall placed absolute faith in Sorlier as a transmitter of his own aesthetic, but nonetheless each printing was carefully supervised by Chagall, and like Miro he approved each piece for publication and often signed his name to a limited edition of each.

As Sorlier himself noted, “Since Chagall himself has worked and reworked these lithographs, they might be considered to be practically original works. But Chagall’s great integrity as far as his engravings are concerned prevents him from making any such claim; and, in every instance where he himself has not manually made the impression in the stone, he has demanded that the name of the engraver be put on the picture.”

Then and now, collectors have prized the works of Chagall and Sorlier for their bright, vivid hues and lyrical imagery. Though technically designated as “afters,” these interpretive and collaborative pieces are each remarkable works of art born of two artists working as one.

Many other popular and prolific artists authorized the printing of their original works for sale, such as Pablo Picasso whose famous Barcelona paintings were reproduced as a series of lithographs by the same name, and Henri Matisse, who near the end of his life created numerous works of art from paper cutouts that were later translated into lithographic form.

In many cases, the intermediary printers have been celebrated artists in their own right; for example,Jacques Villon the brother of Marcel Duchamp, was a well-known Cubist painter who also produced “afters” of works by the likes of Picasso, Edouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Paul Cézanne.

The relationship between “original” works of art and their “afters” is a fascinating and complex one, which does not sully the authenticity of the work in question but merely adds another chapter in the story of its creation.

Archival materials should have superior aging properties and a neutral or slightly alkaline pH level.

AP (Artists Proof)
A designation for prints pulled outside the regular edition for artist approval and personal use. These prints are marked “AP”,”P/A” or “EA”, numbered separately and often represent 10% of the total edition.

In Intaglio printing technique, involving areas of tone rather than lines. A ground is used that is not completely impervious to acid, so that after acid-biting, a pebbly or granular texture is produced on the metal plate.

An abbreviation of linoleum cut. The technique is a derivation of the woodcut but owing to the supple, relatively soft properties of the material, linocuts have different characteristics. The material takes all types of lines, but is most suited to large designs with contrasting dark and light flat tints. The material is cut with small pen-like tools which have a mushroom-shaped handle. The tools have a variety of forms: straight and rounded edge, double-pointed, as a chisel or a Vshaped chisel, etc. As on a woodcut, the relief parts of the block are inked. For printing a large number of important proofs, the lino is attached to a wooden block. Color printing is done with several lino blocks.

Lithography (lithograph)
Lithography originally used an image drawn (etched) into a coating of wax or an oily substance applied to a plate of lithographic stone as the medium to transfer ink to a blank paper sheet, and so produce a print. In modern lithography, the image is made of a polymer coating applied to a flexible aluminum plate.

Lithography Offset (offset lithograph)
One of the four major industrial printing techniques of which the others are: letterpress, photogravure and screenprinting. It has become a commonly used method in commercial printing. It is an extension of the lithographic technique: the image is picked up from the stone, or more usually plate (either zinc or aluminium which has either been grained or covered with an absorbent oxide), by a rubber roller which then reprints it onto paper. Text and image can be transferred photographically and prepared in the usual lithographic technique based on the natural antipathy between grease and water. The advantage of offset is that it enables the damping, inking and printing itself to be done by a series of rollers which enormously speeds the operation, thereby enhancing the commercial value of the technique.

Modern Art
Modern Art or Modernism is the loose term given to the succession of styles and movements in art and architecture which dominated Western culture from 19th Century up until the 1960’s. Movements associated with Modern art include Impressionism, Cubism, Bauhaus, Surrealism, Futurism, Pop Art and Op Art.

Modern Art rejects the past as a model for the art of the present and is characterised by constant innovation. Modern Art grew out of the Impressionist’s rejection of the ‘imitation of life’ school of art. Their emphasis on the act of painting, on the paint itself, can be seen in the Expressionist and Cubist art of the turn-of-the-century.  Modern art was also often driven by various social and political agendas. These were often utopian, and modernism was in general associated with ideal visions of human life and society and a belief in progress.

From the 1970’s artists and movements began to react against Modernism and post-modernism was formed.

The original design is the one from which a copy or tracing is made for the block, stone or plate. An original print is produced when the artist himself has prepared the block, plate or stone.

Provenance is the record of ownership, or a historic record of the various owners of a work of art. The word comes from the French verb provenir, meaning ‘to come from’.

Many artists and publishers now offer certificates of authenticity with limited edition prints, and these can be requested by buyers in the second-hand markets as provenance. However you can also use invoices, receipts and any other proof of purchase as provenance

The image obtained from any printing element. Originally, this was either a metal plate, engraved in intaglio, or a wood block (or metal plate) cut in relief. From the beginning of the nineteenth century, lithographic stones were included, and today screenprinting adds a further type of printing element. An impression taken planographically from a painted surface may also be termed a print. In the past, a rigid distinction was observed between prints obtained by manual processes and reproductions obtained by photomechanical methods. This distinction has less value today, because reproductions have been incorporated into artists’ original prints and are therefore not solely produced, as originally intended, for mass production. A print is termed, “original” if the artist of the design has worked on the printing element himself, as opposed to reproductive and interpretative prints which involve the use of an intermediary person to reproduce the design onto the printing element. Original prints are often only produced in small numbers; they may be numbered and signed by the artist. These distinctions between reproductions (which occasionally may also be signed and numbered) and original prints are, however, generalized. In practice the frontiers are more imprecise, particularly in commercial printing. It must be noted that some people have a much more rigorous definition of an original print than others, e.g. of a photomechanically produced original print of which only a very small number of impressions, numeration and a certificate of authenticity will make it qualify.

Before the introduction of photography, a work was reproduced by either copying it identically, or interpreting it as closely as possible if a different technique to that of the original was used. Engraving, wood engraving and lithography were the most common methods of reproduction. A print is therefore termed reproductive if it is made by someone other than the artist of the original design, as opposed to an original print which is made by the artist himself. These distinctions are many times blurred in contemporary print-making where it seems that these days anything goes.

Screenprinting (Screenprint)
An ancient method of oriental printmaking which, considerably modified and ameliorated, has become one of the four most important methods of modern printing. Contemporary artists have made much use of it as a printmaking technique. The principle of screenprinting consists in applying stencils to a screen (constructed of silk or of some synthetic or metallic material), in such a way that when ink is applied it is prevented from passing through some parts while penetrating the rest of the screen, thereby printing an image on paper placed underneath. The screen is stretched across a frame and attached to a base in such a manner that it can readily move up and down, so that paper can be easily placed and removed as required. For each impression, the paper is placed against registration tabs to ensure that the printing is done in the correct position. The ink is poured over the masking at one end of the screen and when this has been lowered into position, the ink is scraped across the screen with the aid of a squeegee. The most important part of the process is the preparation of the screen. Stencils may be applied in a variety of ways, including the use of filling-in liquid, varnish or plastic film. A drawing can be made directly on the surface with a special ink which is removed in readiness for printing after the rest of the screen has been blocked out. A photographic stencil is made by initially sensitizing the screen.

A set of prints dealing with the same subject, or by the same artist, which are published as a whole. It can also refer to a series of prints taken apart from an illustrated book.


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