In 1909 Theodore Roussel became the first President of the Society of Graver Printers in Colour, which was founded in his studio, a position he which he retained until his death in 1926. The idea of making colour prints from copper plates had fascinated Roussel for many years and culminated with the creation of a rare, and significant, group, which numbered fifteen printed from copper plates and a further ten printed in a unique manner which is now known as the ‘Roussel Medium’. These are regarded as: ‘…revolutionary and fundamental to printing in colours in the twentieth century.’

COLOUR ETCHING

The artist realized, due to his in depth knowledge about the printmaking techniques, that he would have to engrave his plates in a particular manner in order to achieve the desired effect. The engraved surfaces, regardless of the complexities of the ink, would have to print a flat and completely even tone. Only through the use of acid would he be able to guarantee the necessary ‘uniformity of grain and precision of pattern’, regardless of how many plates were used in the making of the finished article. In addition it was essential that an infallible method of registration be conceived to meet the demands of printing from copper plates.


The intricacies involved were described by Roussel in the catalogue of ‘Original Etchings printed in colours,’ exhibited at Goupil’s, July 1899: ‘The register actually adopted, the grounds and aquatints of nineteen different kinds which have been found necessary, the different ways of printing according to the quality wanted in the impression, the means of equalizing the printing power of the different inks made of thirty different powdered colours and a few metals, constitute (without entering into more details) the principle results obtained by several years work. The proofs actually exhibited seem to me to represent only a small fragment of what this method of engraving and printing is capable of giving, and I hope the opportunity of demonstrating this in the of course of time. It will be noticed that the mount on which each proof is laid is itself an etching printed in colours, as is also the frame surrounding the mount…’

ROUSSEL MEDIUM PRINT

 The artist’s final phase of colour printing, which was to bare his name, was a process combining the use of stencils and the printing from textile plates. He wished to discover a printing method which omitted the crushing effect of the press, this he did by printing by hand, and, in addition, in order to obtain the greatest purity of colour, he would have to dispense with printing oil, owing to its yellow quality. After much research he created a medium comprising pigment, meticulously mixed with a rice powder, the qualities of which enabled him to produce the deepest affects of colour and the most subtle graduations of watercolour, a rich impasto effect or a transparent wash.

IMPRESSIONS IN COLOUR

Although they cannot in earnest be described as colour etchings, Roussel also experimented with printing colour ink variants of his black and white prints. Brain Shure, formerly a teacher in the printmaking department at the Rhode Island School of Design makes a most enlightening study of these colour impressions in his essay about Roussel, he remarks:

'Like the vast majority of prints (printed in black or very dark ink onto a paper that is white or whitish) colour plays little or no part in the effect of the image when the paper and ink are disregarded or taken as neutral. Yet, when we look at exactly the same marks in Roussel’s color versions, particularly the versions printed in gold on toned paper the details are much less immediately obvious, and the image almost dances before our eyes as we attempt to read it....

Roussel’s use of Asian papers and coloured inks reflects the general fascination at that moment with Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock color prints, and also with the greater fidelity possible using soft, unsized papers like those, he would have noted, employed in some of the finest of impressions by Rembrandt, the preeminent master of etching, whose work Roussel was known to have appreciated and studied'.

'In Roussel’s prints, we have an opportunity to witness concrete visual evidence of the thought processes of a restlessly experimental artist working in early twentieth-century Europe. A scientific exploration of light waves and color was already providing inspiration for the Impressionists and Fauvists, and for many artists working further from what we now think of as the center of artistic innovation. Advances in chemistry and the understanding of light, optics, vision, and color are cited as steps that led to the development of photographic processes and eventually moving pictures. Painters and printmakers such as Roussel were actively involved in this development. Their experiments with representing movement as well as light and color gave us a new appreciation of abstraction, and they increasingly explored color not simply as a means towards verisimilitude but as a trigger for emotions and as a system for conveying sensibility. As we study Roussel’s sequence of color trials on varying papers, their cinematic quality becomes apparent'. (Brian Shure, Observations on Theodore Roussel's 'The Port of Fowey', https://alteredstates.risdmuseum.org/altered-states/).