The History of Decals: Decalomania

The History of Decals: Decalomania

The History of Decals: Decalomania

The decals that you see everywhere today – on shop windows, car bumpers and friends’ refrigerators – trace their roots back to something called Decalcomania. And we can pretty much guarantee that Decalcomania is not what you think it is!

The History of Decal Creation

Merriam-Webster defines Decalcomania as “1 : the art or process of transferring pictures and designs from specially prepared paper (as to glass) 2 : decal.”

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City gives more insight into the artistic technique that eventually led to the creation of the decals we know and love today. The define Decalcomania as: “A transfer technique, developed in the 18th century, in which ink, paint, or another medium is spread onto a surface and, while still wet, covered with material such as paper, glass, or aluminum foil, which, when removed, transfers a pattern that may be further embellished upon. The technique was adopted by the Surrealists to create imagery by chance rather than through conscious control.”

The researchers at add more to our understanding. “The term decalcomania had a specific application in mid-20th-century art,” they explain. “Paper was covered with gouache, an opaque watercolour paint. It was then pressed against canvas or another piece of paper and then removed, yielding exotic designs reminiscent of fungi or colonies of sponge.” 

According to Britannica, the German-born artist Max Ernst, who was born on April 2, 1891 in Brühl, Germany and later died on April 1, 1976 in  Paris, France, was among the first to use this technique in his work.

In the 1920s, while living in Paris, Ernst became one of the founding members of the Surrealist movement. Surrealism, according to the experts at London’s Tate Museum, is: “A twentieth-century literary, philosophical and artistic movement that explored the workings of the mind, championing the irrational, the poetic and the revolutionary.”

Today, most of us tend to take decals for granted, but without the groundbreaking work of innovative artists like Ernst, you wouldn’t be able to put stickers on your scooter let alone create a decal of your very own!

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