Summary

Although he had already made one linocut in 1939 (Pour la Tchécoslovaquie. Hommage à un pays martyr), Picasso only started exploring this technique in earnest in 1953-4, with the printer Hidalgo Arnéra in Vallauris. At this time he began to experiment with making linocuts in different colours on separate blocks, which he would then superimpose on the same sheet of paper. He first attempted Portrait of a Woman after Cranach the Younger in two colours on 3 July 1958, but the following day returned to the same subject more ambitiously. On 4 July he made five different linoleum blocks – sepia, yellow, red, blue and black – to be superimposed on each other in that order. He then proceeded to print different proofs, in the process making two different states of the colour blocks and three of the black in order to arrive at the final image. The final version was printed on white Arches wove paper in an edition of approximately fifteen artist’s proofs (of which this is one) plus fifty signed and numbered copies, published by the Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris.

Picasso’s dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler has explained the genesis of this work: ‘One of Picasso’s notable characteristics was his need to transform existing works of art, to compose “variations on a theme”, as it were. His point of departure was often simply a reproduction in a book; or even a postcard sent by myself, such as Cranach the Younger’s Portrait of a Woman [1564] in Vienna [collection Kunsthistorisches Museum], which became his first linocut in colour. Among other things, what struck him in particular about this painting was the way the woman’s shadow “rhymes” with the upper part of her body. “How pleased Gris would have been”, he said to me ... This need to transform was certainly an important characteristic of Picasso’s genius.’ (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, ‘Introduction: A Free Man’, in Roland Penrose and John Golding, eds., Picasso 1881/1973, London 1973, pp.8-9.)

Further reading
Brigitte Baer, Picasso Peintre-graveur: Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre gravé et des monotypes, 1946-1958, vol.4, Bern 1988, pp.392-396, reproduced p.392 in colour
Giorgia Bottinelli, ‘Pablo Picasso’, in Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Cubism and its Legacy: The Gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2004, pp.88-90, 100, reproduced p.101 in colour

Giorgia Bottinelli
February 2004