20 August 1968 I is the 289th in Picasso's 347 series of prints. They are identified by the date on which Picasso worked on the plate; these inscriptions are legible in reverse on the prints. The series takes its name from the prodigious output of 347 prints completed between 16 March and 5 October 1968. They were made in collaboration with the master printers Aldo and Piero Crommelynck at their studio at Mougins, in the South of France. A set was exhibited in October 1968 at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Galerie Louise Leiris in Paris two months later. The series was published by the gallery in an edition of fifty, and this sheet is number 17 of 50.
Printmaking played an important role in Picasso's art after 1963. He combined existing techniques and invented new ones in a fertile collaboration with the Crommelyncks, with whom he also made the 156 series of 1968-72 (see Tate P77583-P77590). The 347 series is remarkable for its extent and for the rate of production, which averaged two prints per day. They are complex works that explore a number of Picasso's related themes, such as circuses, bullfights and the theatre, in a humorous and bawdy manner.
In 20 August 1968 I Picasso conflates two nineteenth-century depictions of the exotic female nude: Ingres's The Turkish Bath, 1863, and Delacroix's Women of Algiers, 1833 (both Louvre, Paris). Brigitte Baer, the author of the catalogue raisonné of the artist's graphic work, has made this identification, noting how Picasso also mimics the flowing line of both painters to create his own densely packed image (Baer 1988, pp.105-9). Baer infers that he also drew on Degas' brothel monotypes of 1879, used to illustrate the short story by Guy de Maupassant, La Maison Tellier published in 1881 (Baer 1988, p.122). Picasso owned twelve of Degas' images (reproduced Musée Picasso, Catalogue of the Collections, London 1986, pls.T19-30, pp.240-2), and they inspired prints in his 156 series (see Tate P77585, P77587-P77589). The central group in 20 August 1968 I is framed by an innocent figure holding a vase of flowers and a turbaned figure with a lute; the latter is taken from The Turkish Bath. The immodest poses and challenging stares of the central figures confirm the connection with the harem and the brothel, as their genitals provide a focus for the gaze of the artist/voyeur. As elsewhere in the 347 series (see P77579), Picasso explores the exposure of the model in the presence of the artist and laid out before the viewer.
Brigitte Baer, 'Seven Years of Printmaking: The Theatre and its Limits', Late Picasso, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.122-7, reproduced p.126
Pierre Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York 1993, pp.348-54
Brigitte Baer, Picasso Peintre graveur: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre gravé et des monotypes, 1966-1968, VI, Bern 1994, reproduced p.293