Artists reach out to us through the power or beauty of their images. Great artists have the ability to augment the effect of their images through their choice of medium and response to the special properties of this medium.
Few artists have been as gifted as Pablo Picasso in the intense and uninhibited exploration of the expressive potential of every aspect of paintings, sculpture and printmaking.
This catalogue presents an overview of the artists intaglio prints: his etchings, drypoints, engravings and aquatints, with special concentration on two major monuments of printmaking, the early, Blue Period series, Les Saltimbanques, and the classical Suite Vollard.
The exhibition is composed primarily of a single collection, first assembled by the publisher and dealer, Ambroise Vollard, and suplemented after his death in 1939 by the great dealer and connoisseur, Henri Petiet. For this reason, the works are not only of exceptional quality, but have been conserved unframed in nearly pristine condition, as they left the hands of the printer.
Only two works are from other collections (Bl. 24 and 771; G/B 33 and B. 927).
La Suite des Saltimbanques
The series of etchings and drypoints generally known as the Saltimbanques Suite includes, in addition to glimpses of private moments in the lives of acrobats and gypsies, that icon of evocative melancholy, Le Repas frugal, and the spare and ironic depiction of the dance of Salomé before Herod.
These seemingly candid views are presented either as snapshots, with no representational background at all, or are staged with only a suggestion of a pictorial context and minimal props to avoid any distraction. Only in the Repas frugal is the pictorial context more fully developed, with the symbolic still life of bread and wine set before the couple given prominence. (Baer notes the reference to the sacraments on an altar cloth.)
Our experience of these brilliant early works is normally somewhat diminished by the circumstance that very few impressions were printed at the time of creation, 19045, and the large edition eventually printed (by Fort in 1913 at the direction of Vollard) was produced after the plates were steel faced to harden the surface. The consequence was that much of the more subtle work was obscured or radically reduced, and the colder, clean-wiped plate surface favored by Fort only aggravated the excessively thin and bare aspect of these post steel facing impressions. If Delâtres impressions might have later appeared to Picasso sometimes too free and interpretive in their old style, romantic inking, the impressions after steel facing go to the other extreme.
In the following group of prints, all of those illustrated are before steel facing. Of these, the small drypoint, the Saltimbanque au repos (Bl. 10; G/B12) is a gem of elegant printing, capturing the full dynamic range of the sensitively graded drypoint lines enveloped in a silky film of surface ink. It has the appearance of a true artists proof, printed on a casually chosen and imperfect sheet.
The Tête de femme (Bl. 2; G/B 3) is a classic, warm Delâtre impression with plate tone mediating between the bolder and more delicate etched lines and softening the contrast between background and figure.
The other proofs appear to have been printed after the plates were acquired by Vollard in 1911. It is most likely that one or two proofs of each plate were taken for Vollard before steel facing (though Baer cited only a few such impressions) and these are from that group. Two papers were used: a heavy wove without watermark for the largest plates, and for the others, sheets of a thin, fine, wove paper torn from an old album, some showing the watermark LM.
Most of these pre-steel facing proofs show the plates in virtually the same condition as they were in 1905, and the impressions fortuitously seem still very much in the tradition of Delâtre in their use of plate tone, though relying much less on the selective interpretive highlighting which so much exasperated Picasso.
From Cubism to 1930
Picassos Cubist works provided him with a respite from the emotionally exhausting period of the Demoiselles dAvignon and reflect the intellectual stimulation of competition with his friend, Georges Braque. Most of his Cubist etchings are quite small, but one, Nature morte à la bouteille de Marc (Bl. 24; G/B 33), commissioned as a counterpart to Braques Fox, is quite large. Baer notes that Picasso took the opportunity to incorporate references to his new love, the young woman he called Eva, but who was in fact called Marcelle . . . Clearly marc is the beginning of her name and he adds the word vie (life) for obvious reasons. Then there are the three playing cards: hearts, the symbolism of which needs no commentary, clubs, which are money (he was no longer poor), and diamonds which . . . mean new event or surprise. The composition . . . is much more structured, tense, balanced and stronger than Braques work (Baer, Picasso the Engraver, p. 32).
The period after the war is populated by a number of variations on the theme of the Three Graces. The Deux Femmes regardant un modèle nu (Bl. 57; G/B 102) is unusual both in the variation on the subject and the textural elaboration of the medium. Les Trois Amies (Bl. 76; G/B 117) is the largest of these subjects. It is particularly interesting to see Picasso experimenting with reverse printing in the trial proof, showing the etched lines in white against the inked surface. He very likely was thinking of Matisses white line on black monotypes of 191417.
The beautiful proof of the Peintre remassant son pinçeau (Bl. 88; G/B 129) is one of the illustrations for Le Chef dOeuvre inconnu which triggered his use of printmaking to clarify his relationship both to his work and to the model (Baer, op. cit., p. 33). This work and others of the period look forward to the next decade and the etchings of the Suite Vollard.
La Suite Vollard
Brigitte Baer has noted that, whereas until the 1930s the subject matter of the artists prints had generally followed the flow of his paintings, beginning in 1933, that is during his work on the Vollard Suite, his prints took on something of the function of a diary of his reflections or daydreams. The subjects at first included mainly the sculptor with his sculpture and model (a theme with antecedents in the Chef dOeuvre inconnu (see Bl. 88; G/B 129), alternating with the theme of violent love. Then, in 1933 the minotaur enters, alternatively savage and gentle, sometimes simply a theatrical mask (Bl. 200; G/B 368), and finally, old, blind and broken, an image of pathos (Bl. 222225; G/B 434437).
The works in the series embrace a wide range of techniques, used singly or together: pure line etching, used in so many of the classical artist and model images, or etching used to conjure the effect of virtuosic Mannerist engraving (Bl. 229; G/B 444); drypoint, used to enrich and add volume (Bl. 201; G/B 369) and for its spontaneous energy (Bl. 182; G/B 341); and aquatint used for effects of light and atmosphere (Bl. 226; G/B 440 and Bl. 230; B. 609), or as a uniform ground, scraped and burnished to yield a magical night vision (Bl. 225; G/B 437).
The 97 plates of the Vollard Suite were executed by the artist between September, 1930 and June, 1936. Three portraits of Vollard (not included in the present set) were added in 1937 to complete the series, which was printed by Roger Lacourière before Vollards death in 1939. The edition of 300, which was composed of 250 sets on smaller format Montval paper (approximately 13-3/8 x 17-1/2 inches), and 50 sets on larger format Montval paper (15-1/4 x 19-3/4 inches), was acquired by Henri Petiet.
It was only after World War II that Petiet engaged Picasso from time to time to sign a certain number of sets. This activity ceased with the publication of the 347 Series in 1969, which took all the time Picasso could afford to give to signing his works. A large part of the edition therefore remains unsigned. The present set was signed relatively early and has remained untouched for the better part of four decades.
Other prints of the 1930s through the years of World War II
Picassos Surrealism is generally more stylistic and expressive than philosophical. The Figures of 1927 (Bl. 81; G/B 122) showed him using Surrealist compositional techniques in a way that specially indulged his pleasure in decorative elaboration in the drawing of the human form. The same kind of playful doodling was to become a more persistent aspect of many of his late prints and drawings. The two etchings of the Sueno y Meñtira de Franco (Bl. 297298; B. 615616) constitute a nightmare sketchbook encompassing a range of styles and techniques.
The Woman in an Armchair became one of the central subjects of Picassos work in 1938 (Bl. 307; B. 642). The woman is Dora Maar, sharp and angular, unlike the soft and rounded Marie Thérèse of the early 30s, and the armchair represents old age and death. Dora Maar is also now the model for his reconstituted Three Graces (Bl. 303; B. 631).
The 50s and 60s
After World War II, Picasso embarked on a long exploration of lithography (a medium he had used relatively little until then), and because of this new passion, etching only gradually returned to his repertoire.
The two representations of Françoise with her children (Bl. 737 and 736; B. 901 and 902) were listed by Bloch in order of increasing elaboration, but Baer corrected the sequence, which ultimately evolves more typically towards simplification of the design.
The proof for the portrait of Jacqueline, Buste de femme . . . (Bl. 771; B. 927) is a revelation in the artistic power of the printed image. The subject, which appears at first superficially pretty rivals Matisse in its free physical distortions, and while the brushed aquatint allowed Picasso the freedom of a brush drawing, the use of the print medium provided a dynamic range and powerful immediacy that would be hard to conjure in a drawing. It is only in this stunning proof that the work can be fully appreciated.
Picassos later etchings generally indulge, with more detachment and some irony, the themes of the pre-war years (Bl. 1111; B. 1104) and there is a series of the Smoker dressed in a sailors shirt, who represents the artist (Bl., B. 1165 and 1171).
The 347 Series
The 347 Series was, in printmaking, the undertaking which defined late Picasso. This prodigious outpouring of work, dating from March 16thOctober 5th, 1968, deals with all of his old themes and fantasies, adding an obsession newly central in the late 60s, the artist as voyeur. It is in this role, rather than that of a protagonist, that the artist figures in these fantastic narrations.
In order to be able to work with full freedom and concentration, Picasso had his printers, the brothers Crommelynck, bring the etching plates and hand press to his farmhouse near Cannes.
We have included here a small selection of works from this series, as much for their technical variety as for their subject interest.