Picasso the printmaker: New exhibit at The Clark Art Institute

  • “Faun Unveiling a Sleeping Girl,” aquatint and sugar-lift aquatint, engraving and scraper on paper, 1936 —courtesy of The Clark Art Institute

  • “Visage (Face of Marie-Thérèse),” lithograph, 1928 —courtesy of The Clark Art Institute

  • “Paloma and Her Doll on Black Background,” lithograph, 1952 Jonathan Muzikar—courtesy of The Clark Art Institute

  • “Jacqueline Knitting,” oil on canvas, 1954 —courtesy of The Clark Art Institute

  • “The Weeping Woman, 1,” drypoint, aquatint and etching on paper, 1937

  • Top, “Luncheon on the Grass, after Manet,” color linoleum cut on paper, 1968

  • Right, “Portrait of Dora Maar,” oil on canvas, 1937

  • “The Frugal Repast,” etching on paper, 1904 courtesy of The Clark Art Institute

  • “Minotauromachia,” etching and engraving on paper, 1935 courtesy of The Clark Art Institute

Staff Writer
Thursday, June 15, 2017

Aside from being perhaps the most famous artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso was one of its most prolific and influential: a painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist and stage designer who spent over 70 years as a working artist.

His astonishing output and range of styles, from cubism to surrealism, have given rise to what one scholar calls the image of Picasso as the “ultimate artist-genius,” a brilliant and solitary man who created his art entirely on his own.

But at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, a new exhibit focused on some of Picasso’s prints sheds light on the collaborative way he worked with printers and publishers to produce that work. The show also sketches how the various women in his life, from two wives to a number of mistresses, regularly served as his muses, in turn influencing his imagery and his technique.

“Picasso: Encounters” is one of two new exhibits that have just opened at the Clark and will run through late summer. The second, “Orchestrating Elegance: Alma-Tadema and Design,” features the work of Victorian-era painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and the extensive private music room he designed for 19th-century U.S. financier and philanthropist Henry Marquand.

The Picasso exhibit, organized with support by private collectors and the Musée national Picasso-Paris, includes 35 prints — lithographs, linoleum cuts, etchings, drypoints — and three paintings, presented chronologically and covering much of the artist’s life.

As such, the exhibit showcases how printmaking was a regular part of Picasso’s life, as well as the various styles he experimented with as he worked with different printers, said Jay A. Clarke, the museum’s curator of prints, drawings and photographs. That’s a part of the artist’s career that remained largely unexplored until about the last 20 years, she noted. 

“Working with printers on color and tone and contrast was all part of his creative process,” Clarke said during a tour of the exhibit shortly before it opened. “He wanted to be the guy to make the final decision, but he would ask for input.”

In fact, Clarke noted, Picasso said in various interviews over the years how much he enjoyed the printmaking process and the interaction with printers and publishers: “He would say ‘I love the smell of ink, I love getting dirty.’ ”

And the prints can also highlight — not necessarily in flattering ways — the way Picasso viewed his wives and mistresses. They can be almost saintly figures as well as objects of lust; according to one of his ex-lovers, Françoise Gilot (who was 40 years younger than him), Picasso once said “There are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.”

Changing styles

Picasso’s prints, like his painting and other work, generally fall within specific times of his career that art historians have defined based on his use of color and stylistic approaches, such as the “Blue Period” of 1901-1904 (somber paintings with blue backgrounds) and the “Synthetic cubism” of 1912–1919.

The Clark exhibit includes Picasso’s first print, “The Frugal Repast,” a 1904 etching that reflected his limited means at the time. A gaunt man and woman, seated together at a table but seemingly distanced from one another, confront a piece of bread, a bottle of wine and nothing else for their meal.

“It’s got a lot of atmosphere,” said Clarke. “He was able to bring out this very deep articulation in the faces and fingers.”

Over the next several years, Picasso moved on from the mostly representational style of “The Frugal Repast” to much more abstract images, like the 1912 drypoint engraving “Still Life with Bottle of Marc,” an early experiment with cubism. But in the 1920s, after he met his first wife, Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova, he produced a very straightforward print of her, wearing a fur collar.

A few years after he made that print, Picasso did another representational sketch, “Visage,” of his new lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter (she was 17 and he 40 when they met). But by 1937, when he began an affair with photographer Dora Maar, he had returned to more abstract images: his 1937 oil painting, “Portrait of Dora Maar,” depicts his new mistress with a Cubist face, scissor-like hands and bright red fingernails.

Clarke says that painting also served as the basis for a series of powerful prints, “The Weeping Woman,” that Picasso did in 1937. These are portraits of anguish, with the woman’s face distorted both by grief and cubist lines.

“The Weeping Woman” also traces its lineage to “Guernica,” one of Picasso’s most famous paintings. That 1937 work was a response to the bombing during the Spanish Civil War of the Basque town of the same name by German and Italian warplanes, working in concert with the Spanish Nationalist forces led by General Francisco Franco.

“There’s a direct line from ‘Guernica’ to ‘The Weeping Woman,’ ” said Clarke. In this case, she noted, Picasso had merged the personal (Dora Maar as his new muse) with the political (the anti-war message of “Guernica”).

Picasso drew inspiration from bullfights for a wide range of prints, most notably his 1935 etching and engraving “Minotauromachia,” which is awash with symbolic and mythological images: a young girl holding a candle, a Christ-like man on a ladder, and a minotaur, with its bull’s head and man’s torso.

“It’s a very layered image, and there have been many possible interpretations on what it might mean,” said Clarke. 

Picasso had his softer side, too: The Clark exhibit includes warm portraits that were inspired by his daughter, Paloma, and by his second wife, Jacqueline Roque. And late in his career, in the 1960s — he was in his 80s by then — he worked with new printers to produce linoleum cuts so he could use multiple colors in his prints.

“He never stopped working or experimenting,” said Clarke.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

“Picasso: Encounters” is on view at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown through Aug. 27. For visiting hours, ticket prices and additional information, visit  www.clarkart.-edu.