24 March 1968 II is the sixth 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. In 1992 Aldo Crommelynck recalled the visit made in June 1968 by the American curator William Hartmann, who proposed exhibiting the as yet incomplete series of prints at the Art Institute of Chicago on the occasion of the artist's birthday in October. This brought a natural end to the series in order to allow time for printing (see Rachel Stella, 'The Painter and the Printer', in Picasso Graveur: Les 156 gravures, Mougins 1968-1972, exhibition catalogue, Musée d'Art Moderne, Saint-Etienne 1992, p.44). A set was shown at the Galerie Louise Leiris in Paris (December 1968 - February 1969). The series was published by the gallery in an edition of fifty; this sheet is number 23 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.
24 March 1968 II shows three female nudes and two smaller male figures. The women adopt provocative poses, and their hair and eyes are elaborately detailed. The standing nude on the left arranges her hair, as she and her kneeling companion - who stretches out her hand - observe the seated nude on the right. This seated nude is also the focus of the male figure shown in profile, so that one theme of the composition would appear to be the act of looking. Picasso contrasts the man's gaze with the dominant exchange enacted between the women. An awareness of the power over men of the naked female body is also suggested through the details of the seated nude, who tweaks her erect nipple and reveals her sexual parts while looking directly outwards to engage the artist's - and the viewer's - desire.
Picasso's prints often contain allusions to the work of other painters. The author of the catalogue raisonné of his graphic work, Brigitte Baer, has identified such quotations in 24 March 1968 II (Baer 1988, pp.105-9). She suggests that the seated nude mimes the posture of an Ingres 'odalisque' - an idealised female nude - but that Picasso makes this figure explicitly sexual in a way only implied in Ingres' work. In the drawing of all three females Picasso used drypoint to echo the flowing line employed by Ingres and by Matisse. Picasso treated the male figures differently, using etching to create densely hatched forms. The small seated man resembles a Dionysian god in the guise of a satyr, and Baer suggests that he wears Van Gogh's famous straw hat. The man in profile assumes the turban and robes of the Biblical paintings of Rembrandt, an artist to whom Picasso continually returns in his etchings.
Brigitte Baer, 'Seven Years of Printmaking: The Theatre and its Limits', Late Picasso, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.105-16
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.172