Picasso was involved with printmaking as early as 1904, although he did not make lithography a focus of his graphic work until the winter of 1945. At this time he went to work alongside the master lithographers at the Imprimerie Mourlot.
The Mourlot’s family involvement with printing goes back to Francois Mourlot who founded a wallpaper business during the early nineteenth century. After Francois’ death, his son Jules took the workshop in another direction, printing advertising posters. Jules founded the Imprimerie Mourlot in 1852 and moved the presses to the rue de Chabrol in 1914. Upon Jules’ death in 1921, his two sons, Georges and Fernand inherited the workshop.
By 1945 every major printmaker in Paris was working with Mourlot and his printers. In the case of Picasso, the team beside Fernand Mourlot consisted of three painters, Gaston Tutin and Jean Celestin (‘Père Tutin’ and ‘Tintin’) the proofers, and Henri Deschamps the chromist who was in charge of the ink. They worked with Picasso taking proofs from the stones and zinc plates. When Picasso first began work with Mourlot, all of the lithographs were drawn on the stone in the traditional manner. By 1947, Picasso realized that he could avoid some of the studio’s restrictions by working on zinc plates which could be easily transported from his studio to the printers.
While working on the stones a system was devised whereby eighteen copies of each successive stage of any image on which Picasso was working would be taken and preserved. Once the move was made to zinc plates this number was reduced to six, five copies for the artist and a sixth for Mourlot himself. Although Mourlot records the five “artist’s reserved copies” in his catalogue raisonné he does not mention the sixth impression. Many of the proofs in this exhibition are numbered 6/6 and must presumably be the copy kept by Mourlot. The lithographs presented in this exhibition represent an almost complete run of “reserved proofs”.
The themes covered by the lithographs are central to the artist’s oeuvre. There are portraits of women, most notably Francoise Gilot and Jacqueline Roque, still lifes, genre, explorations of earlier artistic work and styles, and contemporary interpretations of the dove as a symbol of peace.
The many proofs allow an in-depth examination of Picasso’s tireless exploration of the lithographic medium. The majority of the prints are in black alone, but of particular luminosity (enhanced by the addition of garlic to the ink according to Deschamps).
Lithographs are made by creating a drawing on a flat prepared surface, usually a large and heavy slab of thick Bavarian limestone. The drawing, made with a greasy crayon or similar material, is then stabilized with a gum-arabic solution. The plate (or flat stone) would then be sponged with water, the greasy drawn areas repelling the water but attracting the rolled-on ink and the rest of the stone remaining wet and repelling the ink. Paper is positioned over the plate and the pressure of the press transfers the ink from the stone to the paper, printing a reverse image of what was drawn.
Picasso also created lithographs on zinc plates as they were lighter and did not require him to work at the lithographer’s studio. It was in 1945 that Picasso took up residence at the Mourlot studio in Paris enjoying the medium where he could rework an image on the same printing surface and preserve the complete evolution of the composition.
Picasso later created his lithographic images on a paper that was then transferred to the stone in reverse from the original drawing. Then, when printed, the print would be a reverse of the inked surface, thereby consistent with the orientation of the original drawing. In examples where Picasso’s date is read correctly, it is likely that the print was made by transferring a drawing to the plate.