Picasso on Paper: The Artist as Printmaker 1923-72

landau-39- cropped

Pablo Picasso
(Spanish, 1881–1973)
Tete de Femme au Chapeau,1962
Color linocut on Arches watermarked paper

Beyond the world of art, he is simply recognized by his last name – Picasso. In the first time in 51 years, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts will host an exhibition focusing on the iconic Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).

Picasso on Paper: The Artist as Printmaker, 1923–72 opens Nov. 11, 2023 and runs through March 3, 2024. The exhibition will feature etchings, engravings, lithographs, and linocuts by the renowned modern master over a 50-year period.

Although best-known for his iconic paintings, such as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, 1907) and Guernica (1937), he also was a prolific printmaker, producing more than 2,400 prints during his career. This exhibition takes us on a journey through 50 years of Picasso’s work with printmaking, his innovative modes of expression, and his pioneering techniques in the medium.

“We’re so excited to be bringing Picasso to Hagerstown. We booked this touring exhibition because we have Picasso prints in our collection, as well as works by his contemporaries,” said Sarah Hall, the museum’s executive director. “We thought this offered the perfect opportunity to put our prints in context and tell a deeper story. While printmaking itself may be a bit of a mystery to some visitors, Picasso’s graphic skill and his virtuosity are readily apparent in this exhibition. He was a dynamic, driven artist —in fact, in one quote we use in the exhibition, he says, ‘If I’d been a shoemaker, I’d have wanted to be the one who made the largest number of shoes.’ You feel this need to produce this great energy in the exhibition. His boldness and versatility practically leap off the wall.”

THE ARTIST

Among the most famous artists to have ever lived, Picasso exerted a significant impact on the evolution of modern art. Along with his colleague, Georges Braque, Picasso is perhaps best known for his key role in revolutionizing visual art through the development of Cubism in the early 1900s. As visitors will see in this exhibition, his work (often autobiographical) and artistic technique were constantly evolving. A painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramist, and theater designer, Picasso did not employ one style. Instead, he enjoyed shifting between and combining styles. Often considered the most significant printmaker since Rembrandt, this exhibition provides a fascinating examination of Picasso’s work in the medium, while showcasing the variety of his output, his graphic sensibility, and virtuosic confidence.

THE EXHIBITION

Much of Picasso’s work is autobiographical and features images of the many women who were his lovers, partners, and artistic muses, with whom he had complicated relationships. Throughout his 80-year career, most of which he spent in France, he also depicted his studios, scenes from literature and classical mythology, bull fights, and works inspired by European Old Master paintings and prints.

Over the decades, Picasso worked in many print studios, collaborating closely with their owners and workshop assistants as he mastered the techniques of etching, lithography, and linocut. The exhibition is installed in a rough chronology divided into sections based on the printmakers with whom he collaborated. Among those printers were Roger Lacourière, Fernand Mourlot, Hidalgo Arnéra, and Aldo and Peter Crommelynck. These various printmakers introduced him to techniques, supported his interest in experimentation, and enabled his prolific output — sometimes delivering materials to the artist so that he could keep working.

The show begins with etchings and engravings that Picasso made at Lacourière’s workshop from 1923–44. This studio greatly assisted the artist in time-consuming tasks, most notably preparing plates and pulling proofs, allowing him to focus more on exploring new possibilities of the mediums. A selection of printmaking tools is on display, and QR codes link to demonstration videos to help visitors better understand the work processes for each of the major techniques in the exhibition. A glossary of printmaking terms is also available, as are selections from the museum’s library for those who want to dive more deeply into Picasso’s life and work.

During this period, Picasso developed his ambitious Vollard Suite (1933–39, published by Picasso’s dealer, Ambroise Vollard), which contains over 100 etchings of subjects created using a neoclassical style. Among the remarkable works in this series is Marie-Thérèse Dreaming of Metamorphoses (1933), a work that was printed in four states (variations in a print, caused by deliberate changes by the artist or publisher).

This etching depicts a seated Minotaur (an ancient Greek mythical creature, half-man, half-bull), symbolic of the artist’s alter ego, and a bearded man raising a glass; the three women depicted resemble Picasso’s lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, for whom he left his first wife, ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova.

Reclining in the foreground, the print seems to depict Walter imagining herself amid these characters hovering around her. The print’s title might allude to the ancient Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses (which interested Picasso greatly) or more generally to transformations over time.

Picasso also maintained a life-long fascination with works by European Old Masters, including Northern Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder. In a 1949 lithograph, Picasso reinterpreted theOld Testament subject, David and Bathsheba based upon the German artist’s oil painting. The erotic theme of the story no doubt appealed to Picasso. Contrasting areas of light and dark to great dramatic effect, the artist showed King David (possibly representing Picasso himself) eagerly gazing at Bathsheba from above, who wears a richly textured, elaborate floral dress reminiscent of one worn at the time by Françoise Gilot, Picasso’s partner at the time.

Another major focus of this exhibition is Picasso’s use of linocut. In conjunction with Arnéra, Picasso worked extensively in this medium from the 1950s‒’60s because its process was faster than making etchings and lithographs. To create works like Head of a Woman with a Hat (1962), the artist cut a design into a linoleum block with a sharp knife, V-shaped chisel or gouge, with the raised (uncarved) areas representing a reversal (mirror image) of the parts to show printed. Picasso then inked the linoleum with a roller (called a brayer) and finally impressed it onto paper, the results of which are represented in the show through six prints in black and white and copper-colored ink. These prints are especially intriguing because we can observe how Picasso manipulated light, color, and form in different states to alter our perception of the subject.

IN HAGERSTOWN

The museum’s curatorial staff has put significant work into customizing the installation. Many labels include compelling quotes by Picasso himself or the printmakers he collaborated with — lending a sense of immediacy and voice to the exhibition. Comparison images help to show the variations in prints as he worked on them, and a gallery guide gives a fuller picture of Picasso’s life and relationships while also featuring a timeline that highlights major works in his painting career. Additionally, Picasso’s problematic legacy is addressed — having lived well into the 20th-century, Picasso’s misogynistic treatment of women is well documented and runs counter to today’s values. Texts in the exhibition attempt to give agency to the women in his life as “more than muses”—and these women, some artstis themselves. have provided the inspiration for a suite of programs planned for later in the exhibition’s run (see more information below).

A complicated, prolific artist, this exhibition, while limited to prints, gives a rich sense of Picasso’s astonishing skill as a draftsman. He shifts from style to style, from naturalism to abstraction, from the playful to the disturbing, from the delicate to the brutal with consummate ease. Throughout all of these images, perhaps no subject is more pervasive than the clear presence of the artist himself — inserting himself into mythologies, dreamscapes, and art history. It’s easy to understand why his name is synonymous with artistry.

EXHIBITION ORGANIZATION AND SUPPORT

Drawn from the collection of Timothy Collins, this exhibition and museum tour was organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA. This exhibition has been made possible with the support of Paul and Lotta Mellott, and Visit Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Raymond James.

ASSOCIATED PROGRAMMING

Sunday, Nov. 19, 5 to 6 p.m. The Weather People in concert. Listen to trombonist Cam Millar, saxophonists Howard Burns and Anita Thomas, and trumpeter Adam Hanlin. Inspired by the exhibition, Millar has composed Picasso Suite. The concert is funded by the Maryland State Arts Council. Free. Register in advance by contacting Donna Rastelli at 301-739-5727 or drastelli@wcmfa.org.

Friday, Dec. 15, 5 to 8 p.m. Holiday Night: Picasso and Mulled Wine. Enjoy a glass of mulled wine (for 21 and older), nosh from a savory and sweet charcuterie board, then take a tour of Picasso on Paper. Free.

Thursday, Jan. 4, 5:30 to 7 p.m., Sorry, Not Sorry: It’s Pablo-matic at the Brooklyn Museum. Catherine Morris and Lisa Small, Brooklyn Museum curators, will recount their experiences organizing It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby, perhaps the most talked- and written-about exhibition of the year. One of several shows presented around the world in 2023 to mark the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death, It’s Pablo-matic stood out as the only project to examine the artist’s complicated legacy through a critical, feminist lens. Hear about how they organized the exhibition with their co-curator, Emmy-Award-winning comedian Hannah Gadsby, and its conversation-generating effects on critics and audiences world-wide. $8 museum members, $10 general public. Register in advance by contacting Donna Rastelli at 301-739-5727 or drastelli@wcmfa.org.

Saturday, Feb. 3, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Printmaking Expo with Penn‘s Woods Printmakers. Some of the region’s best-known printmakers will discuss and demonstrate a variety of printmaking techniques and tools. A chance to try printmaking yourself. Free.

Friday, Feb. 23 through Sunday, Feb. 25. More than Muses. This three-day event looks at the challenges of balancing the creative life with family life, and puts the spotlight on female artists in a variety of disciplines, past, present, global, and local Cost for all three events, Register in advance by contacting Donna Rastelli at 301-739-5727 or drastelli@wcmfa.org.

Friday, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Author Talk with Julie Phillips. Don‘t miss award-winning biographer Julie Phillips as she discusses her book The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem, considered one of the best art publications of 2022. Free. To ensure a seat, advance registration is required by contacting Donna Rastelli at 301-739-5727 or drastelli@wcmfa.org.Funding for this program has been provided by Dr. & Mrs. Neil B. Rosenshein in honor of Dr. George E. Manger

Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Celebrate Creative Women Day. Local women artists, authors, and creatives will sell their work. Free admission.

Sunday, 2 to 3:30 pm., Local Creative Women Power Hour. Listen to a panel discussion on how women balance their creative lifestyle with motherhood, work, education, and life goals while enjoying brunch and mimosas. $20 for museum members, $25 general public. Register in advance by contacting Donna Rastelli at 301-739-5727 or drastelli@wcmfa.org.