British Museum acquires Picasso linocuts

The British Museum has announced that it now has in its possession two sets of linocuts by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, which is comprised of progressive proofs and the finished works.
Executed in 1962 when he was 80 years old, the two prints, Jacqueline Reading and Still Life under the Lamp, are considered to be among some of the finest examples of his inimitable ingenuity (in general and within this very technique), and thus is a very important acquisition.
Made possible with support from the Art Fund and private donors, the linocuts now join Picasso’s Vollard Suite, a set of 100 neoclassical etchings that were produced between 1930 and 1937.
Consequently, the British Museum can argue quite reasonably that it now has perhaps the most important collection of prints by the groundbreaking artist in the UK.
“I am very grateful to the Art Fund, the Patrons of the British Museum and the individual donors who have secured these unique works of art for the museum’s Prints and Drawings Collection,” said Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum.
Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, added: “The visual impact, rarity and exceptional quality of the Picasso linocut sets makes them a fantastic acquisition for the British Museum, and one which we are delighted to be supporting.”
Although Picasso made prints throughout his entire career – the earliest being in 1939 – the bulk of his work with this technique occurred between the mid-fifties and early sixties and largely in the south of France.
What was evident during this time was the artist’s desire to breathe new life into this method, and soon enough, frustrated with the time it took to get results, he had conceived of a novel and faster approach.
The traditional system involved cutting a separate block of linoleum for each colour. He did way of that, introducing a procedure that saw him ‘progressively cutting and printing from a single block’, the British Museum explained.
This meant that he had to have a good idea of where the work of art was going to end up, as ‘once he had gouged away’ at the surface, well, there was simply no way of going back. Not a problem for Picasso though; everything he produced seemingly had the Midas touch, be it a well-conceived work or an impromptu sketch.
Preparation was essential though, and we see this in the first set, which is has nine progressive proofs. Still Life under the Lump, which is a still life rendering of apples beside a glass goblet, sharply lit by a lampshade at night.
“Beginning with a blank tabula rasa, Picasso progressively cut and printed the single block, gradually building the image with increasing complexity,” the museum revealed.
“At each stage the viewer sees an image that would appear finished but Picasso goes further, pursuing it to its final form. Each print is vibrant and fresh in the colours of the 1960s: citron yellow, acid green and bright red.”
As for the second set, four proofs exist for Jacqueline Reading, which is a stark contrast to the other work in that it is monochromatic. It depicts his second wife reading a book and is a warm, affectionate portrait of his last muse.
Though the process was a simpler – he used two blocks – it is nonetheless rousing, affectionate, poignant and utterly engaging. You can consider this a testament to the power of love and its ability to constantly inspire.
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