Arguably the greatest painter and most innovative sculptor of the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso was also its foremost printer. His graphic oeuvre spans more than seven decades, from 1899 to 1972. His published prints total approximately 200 different images pulled from metal, stone, wood, linoleum, and celluloid. His unpublished prints, perhaps 200 more, have yet to be exactly counted.
Picasso’s prints demonstrate his intuitive and characteristic ability to recognize and exploit the possibilities inherent in any medium in which he chose to work. Once he had mastered the traditional methods of a print medium, like etching on metal, Picasso usually experimented further, pursuing, for example, scarcely known intaglio techniques such as sugar-lift aquatint.
The printed graphic work of Picasso shows a clearly defined succession of periods in which certain techniques predominated.
Early on, the copperplate, with its variants of the etching and drypoint, fascinated the young artist. In the Parisian ateliers of the masters of this craft, Eugene Delatre, Louis Fort, and above all, Roger Lacouriere, he was introduced to many new techniques. Later, Picasso acquired his own press on which he made many trial proofs and further explored the secrets of printmaking.
Between 1919 and 1930, Picasso occasionally turned his hand to lithography. Then, in the etchings of the Vollard series, his creative powers reached a first culminating point. Most of the compositions that followed during the war years were intended for book illustrations.
In 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, Picasso carved his first linoleum cut. The work was the artist’s contribution to the hastily assembled album of poems and prints Pour la Tchecoslovaquie: Homage a un pays martyr published to commemorate Czechoslovakian martyrs. Its style is quick and curvilinear. Its violent image, the head of an anguished screaming woman, was printed in black and white. It may be considered Picasso’s final postscript to his mural Guernica (1937), and until 1951 Picasso could look back on some 300 etchings and engravings that he had produced over the previous 35 years.