Pablo Picasso, Inventive Genius

By Jonathan Pratt
The Marina Picasso collection of Picasso prints featured in Sotheby's online sale from 20–27 March opens the door onto the fascinating creative processes explored by her grandfather, Pablo Picasso, in the world of printmaking.

F rom the very beginning of his career, Picasso was fascinated with printmaking. This was printmaking as a form of expression, as a technique that could achieve results not possible through drawing or painting. He made over 2,200 prints, inventing techniques as he explored the individual media. This collection takes us through his development in etching, aquatint, lithography and linocut and includes striking examples of his innovation and experimentation.

When Picasso arrived in Paris in 1900, the city that was leading the world in printing techniques. After borrowing a large copper etching plate from his neighbour in the Bateau Lavoir, Picasso etched his first substantial work Le Repas Frugal, 1904. It was only a short time after this in 1907, that Picasso bought his first printing press from the printer, Louis Fort. Now, with his own printing press, Picasso was able to experiment not only with printmaking processes, but with the printing itself.

One of these experiments was the inking of the plate for Baigneuses sur la Plage, 1932 (lot 4). He inks the surface of the plate, as one would ink a woodblock, the effect is to print the image in negative. Another example with experimentation on the theme of the Bathers “Trois Figures sur la Plage”, 1932 (lot 6) was printed by Picasso himself.

The 1930s was a time of enormous political upheaval in Europe as well as a period of great experimentation for the artist. Picasso met the printer Lacourière who introduced him to the different techniques of the aquatint. He mastered these with rapid success and used them with great effect in the set of “comic strip” etchings, Sueño y Mentira de Franco (Dream and Lies of Franco), 1937, as a response to the bombing of Guernica.

In September of that year, Picasso exhibited his masterpiece Guernica in the Spanish Pavillion at the Exposition Internationale, together with his etchings of the Dream and Lies of Franco. These etchings were sold at the Exposition to raise funds for the Republican cause. The set comprised two sheets, each with nine postcard sized images. The idea was to cut out the individual images and use them as postcards. There are five proofs of these powerful subjects included in the collection (lots 9-13). Also included is a unique example of the witty composition Visage et Tauromaquia, 1960 (lot 31).

In 1945, Picasso’s life was to change again. The World War was over, Picasso had fallen in love with Françoise Gilot and he was ready for a new challenge. That year he met the great lithographer, Fernand Mourlot. Lithography is the technique most similar to drawing and particularly expressive for portraits (see lots 19, 21, 26, 36 and 46). Shortly afterwards, Picasso and Françoise moved to the South of France, leaving behind the print studios of Paris and restricting his printmaking activities.

However, soon Picasso met the linocut printer, Hidalgo Arnera in the south of France. Picasso wanted to make a poster to advertise the Vallauris Art Exhibition, a local exhibition of artist’s work, and approached Arnera with the idea. Arnera suggested that he experiment with the linocut technique and very soon Picasso had not only mastered the technique, he was pushing the boundaries.

An example of this was his experiment with “washed” linocuts. Once the image block had been printed, Picasso worked it with ink and then placed it in the bathtub. Then rolling up his sleeves, quite often with Jacqueline to help, he showered the prints with water which removed the ink from the surface of the printed areas but left the residue in the unprinted areas. He enjoyed working on this process himself as each “rinsing” was unique, the final image the result of chance (see lots 70 – 72).

These experiments with printmaking were not only the product of a highly creative mind, but they were also the results of great friendships with the printers. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of these relationships is Picasso’s friendship with the Crommelynck brothers. This friendship led to such an increase in output that soon it became impossible to print and proof the prints in Paris when the artist was living in the South of France. The problem was solved in 1963 when Aldo and Piero decided to set up their studio in Mougins. This gave Picasso access to his printers whenever he needed them. This availability stimulated his work and he created several hundred etchings towards the end of his life (see lots 42, 48-68).

The Marina Picasso collection gives us a unique access to the explorations and experiments of the artist. It is possible to see the development of the printmaking techniques and to see how the artist expanded the boundaries. Many of the works are of great rarity and some unique, but all capture the essence of a great artist.

CLICK HERE to view the full sale catalogue.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's