Monday, February 7, 2011

The Dying Art of Printing on Paper

Last Thursday, our friend, Alain Philippe, invited a small group of us to visit 49, rue Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement, a quiet street between the bustling Boulevard Montparnasse and Boulevard Edgar Quinet. The fairly nondescript, tall brown street door opened into a passageway at the end of which another door revealed a messy reception area: piles of stone, lumber, tools and lots of dust.  Here our host greeted us and led us through an even bigger door, where, as we stepped through, we stepped back in time and all of us, quite literally, gasped out loud.

A vast 19th century studio space of 1400 square meters stretched away from us under huge skylight windows that bathed the interior in soft, winter light.

"Welcome to Idem" said Alain. 

 In today's digital, multi-pixelled world, L'Imprimerie d'Art Idem à Montparnasse, stands alone as one of the last remaining fine arts printing studios in Paris, providing the services of 6 master printers, 2 colorists, and 6 Voirin and Marinoni lithographic presses.

Lithography stones in all sizes line the walls, along with an exceptional selection of papers. Samples of work lie on tables or are propped up for close inspection.

Here, artists such as the filmmaker David Lynch and  Chihiro Minato, an artist, writer and professor of art from Tokyo, use the small artist studios upstairs to create their works, before handing them over to the master printers and colorists.

Working with the massive presses, gleaming with shiny metal and colored inks... of the master printers and his assistant, Mathilde, get ready to pull the lever...

...and engage the multiple rollers that will transfer the image onto paper...

...ready to be checked for color and alignment.

It's an extraordinary, time-honored process that, unbelievably, is today no longer offered to art students at the Beaux Arts schools in Paris! One of Idem's many goals is to set up courses for students to come in small groups and learn from the master printers and colorists how to work with paper and stone, to pass on the knowledge and keep the art form alive. As the Idem website so poignantly points out, it would be hard to name one major artist who has not wanted to express his or her oeuvre on fine art paper.

We spent several hours, happily exploring all the nooks and crannies of this other-worldly place, admiring old posters lining the halls and stairways, leafing through piles of prints, marvelling at the quality of the work, at the smoothness of the stones, the texture of the paper.  This new poster by Francis Coppola's long-time art director, Dean Tavoularis, is now a label on certain bottles of Coppola's wines. As you can see, the original poster is stunning.  Tavoularis works frequently with Idem.

But my favorite -- a bit the worse for wear, bent at the edges, tucked away in a little corner upstairs -- was this 1935 poster advertising the biggest horse race in France, le Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Look at that design, those colors, that quality! It tells the whole story of the race.

Suddenly, it was lunchtime, and we all repaired to the nearby La Coupole, the grand 1927 Montparnasse Brasserie, with its extravagant art deco design, and, at this time of day,  packed with hungry customers, including our merry band.

Here, we devoured their signature oysters, onion soup, fresh fish, sitting under this highly ornamental milk glass ceiling.

To find out more about L'Imprimerie d'Art Idem à Montparnasse, the hopes and dreams of its founders and its artists, check out their website: Their efforts to preserve this singular art form are truly inspiring.

À bientôt!


  1. Wow Aunti Janet that was so so interesting looked amazing never knew these sort of places exsisted thought only news paper companies had printing places!!! x

  2. What a visit and what a lunch. You have a great photographer too! Thanks for sharing this day with everyone

  3. fantastic ! I have been trying to locate such a place. Is it the only one in Paris ?