Looking over the original artworks in the Lenticular Gallery, or at our digital print equipment, lenticular art feels very modern. However, these remarkable art prints trace history back to the 1500s, when tabula scalata became a popular UK novelty. These worked very similarly to lenticular printing, using a corrugated surface to display two different images. Many also employed unusual perspectives and mirrors to surprise reveal complete images amongst fractured strips of paint.
Variously called perspective pictures, anamorphic pictures, turning pictures and double portraits, tabula scalata were experimented with by artists like Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, Ignazio Danti, Ludovico Buti and Jean Francois Niceron. Examples can be found today in international and UK art galleries including the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Museo Galileo.
By the late 1600s these early lenticular prints had moved from being a novelty to an occasional fine art technique. A well known example is Gaspard Antoine Bois-Clair’s double portrait of Danish Prince Fredrik IV and sister Sophie Hedevig from 1692. Little changed until the late 1800s, when trisceneoramas, showing three images, became a popular novelty souvenir, often used to create religious imagery. This marriage to mass production and religion would prove to be a lasting one.
Tabula scalatas meet marketing to evolve into lenticular art prints
In 1906, Hiram Deeks filed a US patent for a corrugated photographic paper, this could be exposed from different angles to create a photographic version of the double portrait technique. He marketed the prints as Puzzle Post Cards, Photochange Post Cards and Colorchange Post Cards which often played with visual tricks such as a human becoming a skeleton in the double image.
Numerous variations were developed for novelty markets, and in the 1910s lenses were used for the first time to create a stereoscopic illusion of depth. It wasn’t until the embrace of mass produced plastics through the 1940s and 50s that true lenticular printing became possible.
Plastics made the creation of lenticular lenses cheaper and simpler, and an American inventor, Victor Anderson, patented a plastic-lens lenticular print method he called Vari-Vue. It hugely popularised the technique, creating political campaign badges, moving pattern sheets, novelty toys, billboards and, once again, religious imagery.
Finding it’s way back to the modern art gallery world
Techniques continued to evolve making lenticular baseball cards, novelty images and toys, special edition magazine covers, promotional gifts, children’s stationery, limited edition album covers and even postage stamps. By the 1980s, lenticular images had become common enough that they weren’t a novelty anymore.
All of this had been noticed by modern artists, who became as fascinated as those of the 1500s by the possibilities. Pop artist Roy Lichenstein produced a well known example, Fish and Sky, in 1967, and over the decades Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, and Damien Hirst are just a few of the names to have created original artworks as lenticular art prints.
Recent digital print techniques like those used at the Lenticular Gallery have allowed the latest evolution of these art prints. We can achieve exceptional precision in lenticular effects like 3D, motion, and multiple images, that contemporary artists like Yaacov Agam and Jeff Robb have embraced and shown huge potential for.
As more artists and photographers embrace lenticular artwork, new styles are blending with pop art, abstract, photography, film, graphic design, web GIFs and digital art found in blockchain NFTs. Digital technology is feeding an exciting time in art and photography. Here at the gallery on the edge of London in Kent, we’re excited to see lenticular prints embraced by contemporary artists.