Picasso first experimented with lino cutting in 1939, but it is only after his meeting with Hidalgo Arnera in Vallauris, in 1952, that the medium will become an essential part of Picasso's production. The knowledge and availability of Arnera inspired the artist to spend long hours experimenting with yet another technique. Picasso had been a print maker throughout his career, starting in 1907 with his own press. However, something was always missing from the process: color. This is why linocuts became such an important part of Picasso's final period, it gave him the missing piece to his multiples.
Between 1959 and 1962, Picasso will create eighty-eight linocuts, using a technique that he himself invented, allowing him to keep using the same matrix, while applying different colors progressively. Traditionally, a new plate of linoleum would have to be used for each color desired, but Picasso would carve the medium and apply the wanted color onto a sheet when he believed a particular stage was completed. The matrix would then be cleaned, carved again by the artist, and applied with a different color. This new process was more in line with the quickness of execution of Picasso. While many of the works created during this period are related to bullfighting and bacchanalia, the most important works to come out of these series are the portraits of women. Often inspired by his lover and wife Jacqueline Roque, as it is the case in Portrait de Jacqueline de Face I, these works represent, in a cubist reminiscent style, a face, simultaneously shown in profile and face on, creating a unique equilibrium. The colors used, often shades of earthy browns and beige, create a direct parallel with the ceramics created at the same period in Vallauris. As is true for the tools used for the carving of the linoleum, also used in the carving of the ceramics.
Of the two thousand multiples that Picasso produced in his prolific career, linocuts have become some the most sought after, with only around a hundred and fifty works created with this technique. The culmination of the medium was attained in 2014, when the British Museum acquired two important sets of 1962 linocuts: Still Life under the Lamp and Jacqueline Reading. The sets included a finished linocut along with different proofs showing their step-by-step evolution. "The visual impact, rarity and exceptional quality of the Picasso linocut sets makes them a fantastic acquisition for the British Museum" explained Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, which contributed to the purchase.
The value of linocuts vary on the subject, format, edition number, rarity, provenance and overall conservation of each work. Portraits of women and still lives have recently known an increase in popularity and have become the go to works for linocut collectors. Portraits of Jacqueline, as well as Buste de femme d'après Cranach le Jeune, have seen some raising interest in the last twenty years and remain some of the masterpieces created by Picasso using lino cutting.
One of the reasons to explain this rising interest in linocut is the mastery of Picasso with this technique. By finding a way to apply color with the same linoleum sheet, Picasso eliminated all imbalances that would appear in using different matrix. It also allowed for more colors to be applied as can be seen in Portrait deJacqueline de Face 1, where Picasso applies a variety of earth inspired colors, and in Buste de femme d'après Cranach le Jeune, where the artist decided to apply the primary colors and contrast them with black and white. The technique also allow for the colors to stay in their original shade if the work is properly conserved.
As was demonstrated in the Grand Palais' exhibition Picasso Mania, the artist' print making techniques inspired many of the pop and contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Pettibone, Claes Oldenburg and Errò. In the 1980's Andy Warhol created a series of work after Picasso's heads, closely echoing linocuts portraying Jacqueline Roque.
Thanks to Picasso and Warhol, the 1960's saw modern and contemporary prints become an essential part of the art landscape. Warhol, choosing a more traditional approach to print making by creating screen prints, continued in the footsteps of his European counter part, by immortalizing the women he represented. Taken from pop culture, and not his personal love life, Warhol created prints of Marylin Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor, etc.
Both artists have arguably become the most important print makers of the past century and have given to the medium new life, by using color and pushing the boundaries of a technique used by so many masters before them: Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya, etc.
The art market has followed the trend and given the medium the reconnaissance it deserves, lead by Picasso and Warhol continuing to achieve auction records around the world in print dedicated sales.
Alexander Kahan Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York, 1990
Pace Gallery, New York, 2017
Private collection, Paris
Picasso, La Pièce à Musique de Mougins, Centre Culturel du Marais, Paris, 1982
Picasso Mania, Galerie Nationale du Grand Palais, Paris, October 7 2015 - February 29, 2016