The Experimental Printmaking Process of Pablo Picasso

By Sotheby's
Prints from the Collection of Marina Picasso Online is a dedicated sale of rare proofs and trial impressions by the twentieth-century’s most experimental printmaker, Pablo Picasso . Open for bidding 20-27 March, the sale comprises printed graphic works spanning four decades of his venerable career. All together, they best demonstrate Picasso’s mastery of an array of complex techniques, and his penchant for pushing the boundaries of established methods of printmaking.

The Etchings (and Aquatints)

Picasso was introduced to printmaking through etching, a traditional method championed by Rembrandt and Whistler. As a young artist, he was captivated by the medium in the Parisian ateliers of master printers Eugene Delâtre, Louis Fort, and Roger Lacourière. It was in their studios that he developed a knack for the chemical process, which involves covering a copper plate in a waxy “ground” and incising the surface with an etching needle before submerging it in an acid bath, producing a design where the metal is exposed.

Les trois grâces. I (Lot 2), is an early etching dating to 1923, which Fort later printed for the artist in 1930. There are only three known impressions of this subject, which was never published in an edition.

Having easily grasped etching, Picasso was eager to take his practice a step further by incorporating aquatint. Invented in France, aquatint, a process by which tonal effects are created through the use of a fine acid-resistant powder, allowed Picasso to achieve strong contrasts.

Roger Lacourière instructed Picasso in the method of sugar-lift aquatint, which he used to create rich swathes of tone in atmospheric subjects such as Sueño y mentira de Franco (Planche II) (Lot 9). In her memoir Life with Picasso (1965), Françoise Gilot recalls Picasso’s musings on the technique: “with sugar-lift aquatint everything is more direct and at the same time more delicate.”

The Lithographs

Picasso discovered lithography while collaborating with the famed master printmaker Fernand Mourlot. Contrary to the intaglio method of etching, lithography is a planographic process by which an artist draws or paints directly on to a lithographic stone or plate with a greasy crayon or wash, which is then chemically affixed to the surface.

Picasso’s lithographs vary in approach, demonstrating his command of slick and malleable lithographic inks. Some subjects, like the delicate Balzac (Lot 20), consist of minimal, linear strokes, while others are more rich and painterly, such as the atmospheric Nature morte au compotier (Lot 17). Mourlot printed both of these impressions for the artist’s approval, which he preserved amongst his collection of proofs.

The Linoleum Cuts (and Rinses)

A lifelong learner, Picasso delved into the linoleum cut technique at the age of 78. He initially turned to the method out of necessity following his move to the South of France, where he settled with Jacqueline Roque at Villa La Californie in Cannes. Miles from his trusted printers in Paris, he didn’t have time to wait for them to receive and proof his copperplates.

The artist took matters into his own hands, cutting and registering linoleum blocks, firstly to create exhibition posters for his frequent expositions. Finding the process particularly tedious, he eventually developed his own "reduction" method by relying on just one block rather than layering several.

Rather than gouging out contours on his linoleum blocks, typically Picasso hollowed out the surfaces, creating images in “negative”. Seeking to create linoleum cuts in “positive”, he experimented with printing in white. With a large brush he then washed his white prints in black ink, and rinsed any excess pigment in a bath.

The resulting rinsed linoleum cuts, or linogravures rincées, are considered some of the most inspired works in his printed oeuvre. We are pleased to offer three examples of this inventive technique, each a proof impression of the rare Femmes à leur toilette (Lots 27-29). Side by side, they demonstrate Picasso’s progression through the subject, exposing his thought process.

With prints dating from 1921 to 1964, Prints from the Collection of Marina Picasso Online offers a comprehensive survey of Picasso’s growth as a printmaker. Low estimates range from £100 to £8,000, making this the ideal sale for both first-time and established collectors. For more information on these prints and others in the sale, please contact the Prints Department at

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