Picasso Prints

By almost any standard, Picasso could be considered the most influential printmaker of the twentieth century. The majority of his vast graphic oeuvre of over two thousand unique images consists of intaglio prints that he scratched, scraped, gouged, or etched into a copper plate, before he switched to lithography and color relief printing later in his career. Working in close collaboration with some of the best master printers of his generation, Picasso vigorously explored technical innovations that not only fueled his graphic imagination but also expanded the possibilities of printmaking as an expressive art form.

The evolution of Picasso’s printed work closely follows his development as a painter. His earliest prints, from 1904–5, form a series of simple drypoints, depicting acrobats and street performers, that reflect the Symbolist, dreamlike aesthetic of his Blue and Rose Periods. In the 1920s, in the wake of his transformative Cubist period, Picasso expanded his graphic vocabulary to include color pochoirs (stencil prints), lithographs, and aquatints before returning to a wide variety of intaglio techniques in the 1930s, when he produced some of the most stunning prints of his career. In these allegorical compositions, Picasso engraved Surrealist-inspired meditations on the emotional life of the artist in politically tempestuous times, culminating in the enormous etching Minotauromachy, the artist’s printmaking masterpiece. After the war, he explored the creative possibilities of lithography, spontaneously drawn directly onto the stone, before discovering a novel form of linoleum cuts printed in color. Using a technique similar to woodcut, Picasso would recut a single linoleum-covered block for each color in the image, starting with the lightest color and ending with the darkest, and print them sequentially on the same sheet of paper.

Picasso’s combined passion for experimentation and printmaking throughout his career has left us with some of the most memorable images of any graphic artist in history.

Calvin Brown - Former Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings