The idea of a printmaker copying an artist’s painting or drawing was not new to the 19th century. Printmakers were copying painters as early as the 16th century. Some of the earliest museums in the western world were collections of prints of famous paintings. This was the economical way for middle class people to own images of fine art. What am I saying, when one sees the verity of the print based on a painter, how can one not consider the printmaker an artist?!
One way colonial American painters learned about the latest European fashions in painting was through prints based on original paintings. And where would the ukiyo-e artists have been without the patient woodblock carvers who copied their drawings? Here’s an example of a drawing by Utagawa Hiroshige later copied by a woodblock carver for making hundreds of prints.
This is not to say that all painters relied on printmakers to produce copies of their drawings. On the contrary, Albrecht Dürer was renowned for his refined work with the burin, a woodblock print working tool. Also, in the early 20th century there was a movement in Japan called Sōsaku hanga (creative print) that bucked the traditional system of artist-woodblock carver-printer (learn more about in my post about the movement). Many artists in the 21st century prepare the plate/block themselves, and then hand it over to a professional printer to produce mass copies.
Audubon is most famous for his Birds of North America (which, too, was painstakingly copied by lithographers). He began sketching for the Quadrupeds of North America in 1839. This J.T. Bowen—about whom I can find little if any biographical information—not only copied Audubon’s drawings onto the litho stone, he then hand-painted 300 copies of each print! This is an amazingly beautiful set of images, which, I think, is a tribute both artists.
Examples of printmakers copying other artists’ works:
Utagawa Hiroshige, Demi Beach at Sumiyoshi in Settsu Province, plate #5 from the series “Famous Views of the Sixty-Odd Provinces,” 1853–1856. Color woodcut, 39 x 26 cm (15 3/8" x 10 1/4"). ©Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-835C)
Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 1.6; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.10; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 3.13, 3.14; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 4.19, 4.20, 4.21; 4.22; The Visual Experience: 9.4; Discovering Art History: 12.2