Picasso in Print
Pablo Picasso was responsible for creating some of the most enduring printed images of the twentieth-century. This exclusive Online Viewing Room showcases the different ways in which Picasso used the medium of print as a totally original means of artistic expression. During his lifetime, Picasso made approximately 4,000 prints using a variety of techniques, including lithography, linocut and engraving in its various aspects such as etching, drypoint and aquatint. Picasso in Print represents his graphic output in every medium and spans a 35 year period.
This presentation coincides with the exhibition Picasso and Paper at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (25 January – 13 April 2020). The works in this Online Viewing Room are also currently on display in our Private Viewing Room at the gallery. If you would like to make an appointment, please contact the gallery via firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7439 1866.
image: Picasso and Aldo Crommelynck (far right). Photo by Lucien Clergue. Museu Picasso, Barcelona © Atelier Lucien Clergue.
Between 1930 and 1937 Picasso made a series of 100 etchings, now collectively known as The Vollard Suite, a name derived from the art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard who commissioned him to make this body of work. The suite is regarded as one of the finest achievements, by any artist, in the medium of etching; at the heart of the series are numerous plates which depict the sculptor in his studio, the artist and model and a minotaur (half-man, half-beast). Picasso used the mythical creature as a metaphor for man, for himself and for the artist and it was to remain an enduring motif in his work. Within the context of the Vollard Suite, the minotaur is used by Picasso to explore conflicting themes of eroticism, violence and vulnerability.
La Femme a la Fenêtre is one of the most celebrated examples of Picasso’s later work in etching and is a tour de force of twentieth-century printmaking. It is a depiction of his lover Françoise Gilot, who is shown looking out of a window, her profile realised in semi-abstract form using sharp, angular lines and bold areas of grey, black and white. The artist made use of varying tonal techniques to portray light and shade with light flooding in from the window and falling delicately on parts of Gilot’s face; he made two states of this work and this impression is from the second and final state where Picasso used harder lines, making the tones deeper and Françoise’s face and hair more refined. This print forms part of important public collections including Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In 1945, at the suggestion of Georges Braque and Henri Matisse, Picasso met the Master printer Fernand Mourlot, whose Parisian atelier specialised in lithography. This meeting marked the beginning of a pivotal relationship and was the catalyst for a prolific printmaking period for the artist. Following the Second World War, the limestone which Picasso had previously used to make lithographs was in short supply, so instead he began working on zinc plates. Easier and lighter to transport, the worked on zinc plates could readily be moved back and forth for proofing and editioning from Picasso’s studio to the printers. This improved method of working also allowed Picasso to work at any time of day or night, which suited his obsessive working habits. Over a twenty-year period, Picasso made over 400 prints with Mourlot, examples of which are seen in the portraits below of Françoise Gilot and Jacqueline Roque, two of Picasso’s lovers who also appear together in L’Italienne.
When Picasso moved to the South of France in the late 1950s, he was physically distanced from his intaglio and lithography collaborators in Paris. He came to linocut by accident and through artistic need. On seeing posters in the town of Mougins advertising the trades of the local butcher and baker Picasso sought out the printers, the Arnéra brothers. He began working with the brothers to make linocut posters for ceramic exhibitions and bullfighting events, a subject that remained a creative obsession throughout his life.
Following some experimentation, Picasso pioneered a technique for making linocuts which became known as the ‘reduction’ method; leaving no room for error, he cut, printed and cleaned just one piece of linoleum over and over again, starting with the lightest colour and working through to the darkest, in order to progressively build up an image and create the final artwork. With no other artist working in this way at the time, Picasso turned a relatively simple commercial method of printing into a complex fine art form. Linocut offered Picasso a new freedom in his means of expression. Until now colour had assumed a secondary role in Picasso’s graphic work, but the use of linoleum allowed him to make prints with bright, flat colour and bold patterning.
In just a few years Picasso made around 150 linocuts prints, including Nature morte sous la lampe, one of his most famous works in the medium. Picasso’s linocut prints are some of the greatest examples of twentieth-century printmaking.
The final decade of Picasso’s life was characterised by an astonishing outpouring of energy and an intense period of printmaking. At the age of 86 he embarked on his most ambitious print series, The 347 Engravings. This project, which was completed between March and October in 1968, was a collaboration with celebrated master printer Aldo Crommelynck and is acknowledged as one of the artist’s greatest accomplishments in printmaking.
In 1963 Crommelynck, who had worked with Picasso for several years, moved to the South of France to set up an etching workshop in a former bakery near to Picasso’s residence. He devoted his entire efforts to facilitating Picasso's output of graphics. The artist’s obsessive desire to create new work, combined with the unrivalled proficiency of Crommelynck in intaglio printing, resulted in a remarkable body of work, the results of which Picasso was able to see in record time. In seven months, Picasso created 347 complex intaglio prints that incorporated every method of etching he had ever used.
Wide ranging in themes and motifs the prints depict circus artists, musketeers, musicians, bull fighters, artists and models. Several works in the series were dedicated to illustrating texts associated with the Spanish Golden Age of literature, including La Celestina (1495) by Fernando de Rojas and Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605).
View the prints
These prints are now on show in the gallery’s Private Viewing Room. The works can be viewed by appointment between Monday - Friday, 9 am - 5.30 pm and Saturday, 11 am - 2 pm. Contact email@example.com or 020 7439 1866 to book an appointment.