The recipe of the print, research and constant reinvention

Picasso loved engraving and lithography to such an extent, that he dedicated seventy years of his life to it. His beginnings in terms of engraving, however, were neither at the School of Fine Arts of La Corunya nor the Llotja of Barcelona, even though he started to get interested in these graphic arts at the end of the 19th century.

Initially, he worked with traditional printing techniques but with time, the procedures, chemical recipes and the necessary operations for engraving were the object of research and constant reinventions. From his research particular recipes were born in some of the techniques that he worked on, such as, for example, engraving on linoleum. He was like a cook trying to experiment.

In the stages of initiation, it is worth highlighting an anecdote related to the first print of Picasso. When carrying out the work, he engraved a right-handed bullfighter, without thinking that the printed image would be inverted in relation to the drawing of the plate and therefore the bullfighter would have the sword in his left hand. Once Picasso saw the result, he entitled the work “The left-handed person”, emphasizing his unexpected mistake. A good example of the fact that you can learn from mistakes.

Pablo Picasso. L’esquerrà. Barcelona, 1899. Aiguafort sobre coure; 11,8 x 8 cm (pl.). Sylvie Mazo. Baer I, 1


The story of Picasso the printer is accompanied by a series of collaborators that were developed over the years. The artist not only visited their workshops but extracted knowledge that led to new stages in his creative process of printing. The first lessons he learned from his friend Ricard Canals in the autumn of 1904, at the Bateau-Lavoir. At a later stage, he followed the advice of the Delâtre, father and son, with whom Picasso worked on his first engravings.

New personages followed such as Roger Lacourière, Louis Fort, Jacques Frélaut, Fernand Mourlot, the brothers Crommelynck and Hidalgo Arnéra, who contributed with their lessons and technical assistance.

However, all this collaborative work was subject to an unmovable hierarchy, in which Picasso occupied the main place. The artist delegated the technical phases of the preparation and printing, but did not accept any external intervention that would alter the work he had initiated. In 1966, Brigitte Baer made a very good metaphor: “If we are allowed to make a comparison, it would be as if a person who cooked believed it to be very good for other people to clean the utensils, as long as they never touched the food that was being cooked on a low heat”.

Pablo Picasso. El llamàntol. 9 de gener del 1949. Litografia. Lavis sobre zinc (prova Sabartés). 56,5 x 76 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Donació Jaume Sabartés, 1962. MPB 70.104. Fotografia Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Fotografia, Gasull Fotografia


Another notable fact is that on entering the world of original prints, Picasso ceased to be an autonomous artist who created with immediacy but someone who involved himself in the laborious process, with a defined succession of tasks and a time that had to be respected. It should be taken into account that the drawing, on the other hand, would be based on a synchronization with the gesture that ends up leading automatically to the appearance of the work.

The artist would put to one side techniques that required more time, such as engraving on wood, with some exceptions. He acquired a small press where he alone could manage the rhythm of work and quickly complete the technical phases that would usually take more time. This, together with his impatience, led to a great abundance of works.

Pablo Picasso. Variació de Le déjeuner sur l’herbe de Manet. Mougins, 4 de juliol del 1961. Gravat amb gúbia sobre planxa de linòleum, estampat sobre paper vitel·la Arches amb filigrana (prova Sabartés, I estat). 53,5 x 63,9 cm (planxa). 61,9 x 75 cm (làmina). Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Donació Jaume Sabartés, 1966. MPB 70.271. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Fotografia, Gasull Fotografia


Either way, Picasso was an innovator, especially with colour, and he did not stop doing experiments. Within the framework of the exhibition “Picasso’s kitchen” you can admire some of its lithographs and engravings in Room 9 as “Still Life with a glass under the lamp” (1962), “The Lobster” (1949) or “The variations of Dejéuner sur l’herbe de Manet”.


Written by the Museum


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