The Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage exhibition is currently showing at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. The scholarly exhibition catalogue describes the show as “the first historical survey exhibition of collage ever held” and the catalogue itself as “the first publication to look at the broad history of collage.” (For good measure, the back cover calls the catalogue “the first historical survey book ever published on the subject.”) In fact, neither the exhibition nor the catalogue represent the first surveys of collage in art history, though they are both more wide-ranging than previous histories of the technique.
The standard accounts of collage trace its origins to 1912, and the newspaper cuttings appliquéd to Cubist paintings by Picasso and Braque. Cut and Paste, however, antedates the technique by 400 years, and Patrick Elliott's fascinating catalogue essay demonstrates the extent and variety of pre-Cubist collage. Nineteenth and early twentieth century collages are also discussed in the first chapter of Herta Wescher’s Collage which, with its tipped-in colour plates, remains the definitive work on the subject. A more recent history, Brandon Taylor’s Collage, covers the twentieth century and - like the Cut and Paste catalogue - includes an extensive bibliography.