Picasso’s ‘Grand Nu de Femme’: A work in linocut

To mark the opening of the special exhibition Picasso on Paper: The Artist as Printmaker, 1923–72 (November 11, 2023‒March 3, 2024), we hope that you enjoy this linocut by Picasso in our collection. When you visit the museum,this print is on view in the lobby.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881‒1973)
Grand Nu de Femme (Grand Nu Dansant); Large Female Nude (Large Nude Dancing), 1962
Linocut on paper
25″h x 20.688″w
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Mr. James R. Donnelley,
in honor of Phillip August & Sarah Neely Herrmann and Nina
Herrmann Donnelley, A4362,07.0339

In Grand Nu de Femme, Pablo Picasso created an energetic, abstract portrait of a monumental female nude. The print is partially Cubist in style, representing the woman from multiple viewpoints at the same time and creating the illusion that she has two faces looking in different directions. With her arms folded above her head and bent right leg, it appears as if she is either posing or possibly dancing. Picasso’s deft use of a black and copper palette heightens the graphic appeal of the work while also creating subtle reflections of light and shadow on the woman’s body. The printing technique and use of two colors emphasizes his masterful use of line and keen sense of shape and movement.

While living in Vallauris, France, German artist and colleague Carl Franz Schneider (1901–1971) first suggested that Picasso experiment with linocut when he complained of the long wait to receive lithographs from Paris, a lengthy and cumbersome process that involved sending zinc plates to the printer. In southern France, Picasso had also become familiar with linocuts through the posters he saw advertising bullfights. After meeting Hidalgo Arnéra (1922–2007), a trained typographer and graphic designer whose father had established a workshop in Vallauris, Picasso began a new printmaking association. Shifting almost exclusively to linocut, he commenced by making posters for ceramics exhibitions and bullfights, and later transitioned to portraits and mythologically inspired subjects.

Grand Nu de Femme is a reduction linocut, a relief print medium in which Picasso worked extensively from the late 1950s‒ early 60s. To create this work, 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 block with a roller (called a brayer) and finally impressed it onto paper.

In addition, Arnéra suggested chiseling and inking the single linoleum block with different colors at each stage. About Picasso’s exploratory approaches in linocut, Arnéra recalled: “Picasso had a sort of aggressive delight in encountering an obstacle and surmounting it and conquering it.” Remarking on their collaboration, the printmaker-publisher said he and Picasso were “a confidence between friends.”

Daniel Fulco is the Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator for the Washington County Musuem of Fine Arts.

This WeekendArt is sponsored by Visit Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.