Decalcomania, from the French décalcomanie, is a decorative technique by which engravings and prints may be transferred to pottery or other materials. It was invented in England about 1750 and imported into the United States at least as early as 1865. Its invention has been attributed to Simon François Ravenet, an engraver from France who later moved to England and perfected the process he called “decalquer” (which means to copy by tracing). The first known use of the French term décalcomanie, in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Eleanor’s Victory (1863), was soon followed by the English decalcomania in an 1865 trade show catalog (The Tenth Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association); it was popularized during the ceramic transfer craze of the mid-1870s. Today the shortened version is “Decal”.
The surrealist Oscar Domínguez (referring to his work as “decalcomania with no preconceived object”) took up the technique in 1936, using gouache spread thinly on a sheet of paper or other surface (glass has been used), which is then pressed onto another surface such as a canvas. Black gouache was originally used in Dominguez’s practice, though colours later made their appearance.
Max Ernst also practiced decalcomania, as did Hans Bellmer and Remedios Varo.