Exploring Lithography through Picasso’s Experiments with the Technique

Picasso’s development as a printmaker was extraordinary, and as in other areas of his art he crossed boundaries and broke new ground, radically transforming the traditional techniques and stylistic conventions of the medium.

The selection of lithographs on show in the Museum’s Prints Rooms under the title “Picasso, Lithographs” is a great opportunity to delve more deeply into the techniques of visual expression by way of the graphic arts.

Pablo Picasso, Françoise, 1946. Museu Picasso Barcelona

The exhibition is a superb showcase of Picasso’s creative intelligence in combining processes, techniques and resources and of his rapidly acquired mastery of the traditional tools of crayon and brush, grounded in his great knowledge of the artistic possibilities of inks and washes.

His lithographic technique evolved from a linear stroke (a product of his initiation in drypoint and aquatint in the early 1900s) to a much more painterly quality in his lithographs, essentially due to the gestural use of crayon and brush.

A detailed analysis of the works has shed a good deal of light on the techniques Picasso employed and, above all, on his experimental and innovative approach to the processes of printmaking. The results of this research are so illuminating that we have included an information panel itemizing the principal techniques and procedures used, superbly exemplified by the prints on show.

The information panel with descriptions of some of the processes used by Picasso.

This information panel gives a detailed technical description of a number of the lithographs on display and indicates which works were made with grease pencil, with ink wash applied with a brush, or with frottage, among other techniques, and whether the work was on a lithographic stone or a zinc plate.

We also made contact with artists and other professionals who work in the graphic arts, and the confluence between lithographic process, materials and printmaking studios has led us to incorporate a more didactic technical section into the exhibition.

One of the Prints Rooms in the Museu Picasso

Conceived as an introductory space, an anteroom to the show proper, before we see the prints themselves we come to a display case — as if it were the artist’s table — with a selection of the tools and materials needed to produce a lithograph: grease pencils, printing inks, roller, brushes and zinc plate, among others.

The ‘table’ with the material includes a lithographic stone that has been worked by the artist Joan Barbarà on the basis of a bust of a woman — a portrait of Françoise Gilot that Picasso made in June 1946, which is included in the exhibition.

A detail of the cabinet with lithography tools and materials, courtesy of the Igol company, and a lithographic stone courtesy of the artist Joan Barbarà.

Also included here are original photographs of the Atelier Mourlot in Paris, where Picasso made many of the prints in the show; these photographs give us a clearer idea of what a printmaking studio was like in those days.

A few years later, in the 1960s, we see Picasso’s graphic production come full circle with a new process, the linocut, in a convergence of plane form and colour… However, we will take a closer look at Picasso’s linocuts in an upcoming exhibition.

Reyes Jiménez and Anna Vélez
Department of Preventive Conservation and Restoration

Various photographs of the Atelier Mourlot in Paris sometime between 1946 and 1952. Courtesy of Galerie Mourlot, New York

Atelier Mourlot Paris, circa 1950. Courtesy of Galerie Mourlot, New York

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