Brief Picasso Bio

A brief biography . . .

Printmaking was a true passion for Picasso, and he was a major innovator in this medium. He altered his methods to achieve singular expressive qualities in his multiples. He worked with numerous ateliers over the decades and his proofs illustrate the unique working relationship Picasso maintained with his printers. Their craftsmanship made Picasso’s extensive and revolutionary experimentation with the media possible. Works created in collaboration with the great printers represent the breadth of Picasso’s considerable oeuvre in linocuts, etching and lithography, and allow us to examine the working process behind it. His graphic oeuvre spans more than seven decades, and his published prints total approximately 2000 different images pulled from metal, stone, wood and linoleum. It is not only that Picasso mastered the difficulties of new techniques with playful ease; he soon went on to obtain results that had hitherto been deemed impossible. Throughout his long and illustrious career, Picasso demonstrated an extraordinary proclivity toward experimentation. The result was a bounty of artistic riches that has forever changed the art world. Picasso’s enthusiasm for printmaking developed shortly after he moved to Paris in 1900. In the first decade of the century, he worked predominately with the famed Delâtre brothers, specialists in intaglio techniques and primarily creating etchings, drypoints, aquatints and burins. Notwithstanding, he gradually became dissatisfied with the relationship as the Delâtres would not allow him into their printing studio. Around 1923, he was so frustrated that he stopped sending his etching plates to the Delâtre printing studio all together. This setback did not sour Picasso’s pursuit. He engraved few intaglio prints in his own studio, and in 1927 he began to work with Louis Fort, whom he probably met through the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Another authority in intaglio methods, Fort pulled many of Picasso’s now famous cubist prints, as well as several from the 1920s (including a large major drypoint of Madame Picasso, Portrait d’Olga au col de fourrure (1923). 193 Although he was more responsive to the aesthetic wishes of Picasso than the Delâtres, Fort and Picasso never fully formed a partnership as Fort was not an artist. Picasso henceforth became wary of printers and tested new ones at great length before entrusting them with significant works. The first of these was Roger Lacourière, a talented printer and engraver whom Picasso encountered fortuitously in 1933 during a walk through Montmartre. However, Lacourière swiftly distinguished himself, because as an artist he not only respected Picasso’s creative process, but also generously supplied necessary discreet advice and materials. More significantly, in 1934 Lacourière introduced Picasso to a revolutionary print technique, the sugar-lift aquatint. A method invented by Lacourière’s father consisting of intaglio chiaroscuro, the craft of sugar-lift aquatint was a technique that Picasso worked and re-worked tirelessly until 1972. It is with this very technique that Picasso competed with the “blacks” of Rembrandt’s prints.

For the first time, the collegiality and flexibility of Lacourière spurred Picasso to extended experimentation; he began to blend different processes and created numerous states of various plates in zinc or copper. The most dramatic result of these efforts was the 100 prints for the Suite Vollard (1930- 1937) a survey of all the themes the artist explored during the 1930s and printed on a special paper conceived by Gaspard Maillol (brother of the sculptor Aristide Maillol) for the Canson-Montgolfier papermaker. Until the mid-1940s, Picasso did not extensively explore other techniques as he had not yet ascertained adequate master printers. 1945 was the beginning of an intense lithographic endeavor when Picasso met Fernand Mourlot (probably through Henri Matisse) who employed the printers Gaston Tutin (“le père Tutin”) and Jean Célestin. Despite Mourlot’s printers’ engagement in classical lithographic techniques, they supported Picasso’s experiments and achieved a status similar to Lacourière’s. With this encouragement, Picasso developed revolutionary approaches to lithography, like simplifying complex images to essential lines in successive states. He also employed special types of reserves for particular effects and ingeniously used available material found in the printing studio. Picasso’s permanent move to southern France in the 1950s disrupted his association with Lacourière and Mourlot’s studios. As a consequence, his print production decreased, in spite of periodic visits from Jacques Frélaut, a member of Lacourière’s print studio since 1938. Late in this decade, Picasso’s interest in prints revived when he met a local printmaker, Hildalgo Arnéra, who thoroughly introduced him to linoleum cuts. Although Arnéra mostly practiced commercial printing, he happily accommodated Picasso’s innovations of color reduction in one linoleum block and rinsed linoleum cuts (a sort of monotype consisting of printing a linoleum in off- white or beige color and rinsing them with India ink). In spite of his success with lithography and linoleum cuts, Picasso quickly returned to his beloved intaglio copper plate when the opportunity arose in 1963 with Piero and Aldo Crommelynck, printers who had been skilled by Lacourière and who established a workshop for trial proofs and states near Picasso’s home. Picasso tested their skills at great length before wholeheartedly committing, and by then almost abandoning linoleum cuts and lithography all together. With the arrival of the Crommelyncks, the artist experienced an outburst of creativity and produced an extraordinary number of prints all engraved on copper. In 1968, he completed the majestic 347 series with many new themes never taken into consideration before; the 156 series from 1969- 1972, as well as illustrating numerous books by specific writers and publishers (among them by the publisher Iliazd.)

©Emmanuel Benador

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