“Celebrating the Muse: Women in Picasso’s Prints 1905-1968” opens at Marlborough Gallery on March 23 and will include over 200 prints by Pablo Picasso in a variety of print-making techniques – etching, drypoint, linocut and lithography – that explore the theme of woman as muse in these media. Marlborough’s
exhibition is the first comprehensive overview of this subject as specifically depicted in Picasso’s graphic oeuvre. The show will feature works spanning his entire career from his first print, Le Repas frugal, 1905, to selections from the tour-de-force of his late period, the Suite 347 of 1968. A notable lender to the Marlborough exhibition is Maya Widmaier Picasso, the artist’s daughter.
Marilyn McCully, in her essay for the exhibition catalogue, comments
on the importance of the graphic medium to Picasso: “Prints, which have traditionally been created in series, offered Picasso a special opportunity to explore narrative, as one composition
leads to the next. A sequence of etchings, engravings, or aquatints, which he exploited to compose complex myths and stories rather than simple illustrations, also allowed him to probe visual ideas in new directions. The scenes that he was inspired to create by a succession of Muses are acted out by a cast of familiar
characters (including the artist himself), who often change roles and appear in different combinations, performing on a very personal stage. The intimate scale of printmaking and of the prints themselves also provided an occasion for Picasso to reflect on the nature of his art and the creative process and to probe deeply into his innermost thoughts and desires.”
Marlborough’s exhibition will feature a number of early prints, including Picasso’s drypoint Les Saltimbanques, 1905, that depicts a group of acrobats at rest and Salomé, 1905, a scene from the same series in which the artist’s focus is on the seductive young woman as she performs for Herod. Both are very rare impressions
before steel facing, with velvety, rich burr and luminous plate tones.
Nelson Blitz, Jr. and Catherine Woodard are lending a number of important Picasso masterworks in printmaking that span a significant
part of the artist’s career. These include the rarely seen Gauguinesque woodcut of Fernande Olivier, Femme de trois quarts, 1906, the haunting drypoint portrait of Olga Khokhlova, Portrait d’Olga au col de fourrure, 1923, the monumental and groundbreaking
etching, La Minotauromachie, 1935, La Femme qui pleure I, III & IV, 1937, which relate to Picasso’s most important painting, Guernica, 1937, and encapsulate the horror and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War, and the bold black and white sugar-lift aquatint,
La Femme à la fenêtre, 1952.
Picasso produced beautiful prints during his Classical period (1917-1925), a number of which will be on view during this exhibition.
These include La Source, 1921, and Le Collier, an elegant composition of 1923 that derives its theme from The Three Graces of antiquity.
The Suite Vollard is a series of 100 prints commissioned by the brilliant, pioneering art dealer Ambroise Vollard that covers the years 1930-1937. This tour-de-force of Picasso’s mid-career
produced some of the most important prints of the Twentieth Century. Marlborough’s exhibition will include a number of works from this group, including Vieux sculpteur au travail (March 23, 1933), Le Repos du sculpteur devant le petit torse (March 30, 1933) and Sculpteur et son modèle devant une fenêtre (March 31, 1933), each relating the artist to his female muse in the studio. In addition, the show will include impressions of Minotaure caressant une dormeuse
(June 18, 1933), Quatre femmes nues et tête sculptée (March 10, 1934), Minotaure aveugle guidé par une fillette dans la nuit (November 1934) and Faune dévoilant une femme (June 12, 1936), considered by many to be highlights of the Suite Vollard. That a number of these works originally came from the collection of Vollard himself
and were later acquired by the distinguished French collector Henri M. Petiet, only adds to their significance.
Fine examples of Picasso’s later work will also be included in the exhibition. Dans l’Atelier (February 7, 1964), an aquatint and etching, Femme assise dans un fauteuil (October 26-27, 1966), an etching combined with drypoint and aquatint, and Femme au chapeau
à fleurs, 1962, a color linocut, are three works that depict Picasso’s last muse, his wife Jacqueline Roque Hutin. The latter work is one of a series of semi-abstract linocuts in a range of colors from earth tones to blue and red that depict his wife. She reappears in the beautiful Jacqueline lisant, a linocut from 1964, that will also be in the show. McCully writes of Jacqueline in her essay, “She is at once the supreme muse, model, companion and an erotic presence in Picasso’s paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints of his last years.”
Picasso’s remarkable use of printmaking continued throughout his life, as evidenced in the Suite 347, which he produced between March 16 and October 5, 1968 with the young printers Piero and Aldo Crommelynck. McCully writes that Suite 347 is “a sequence of engravings mixing various printmaking techniques, which represented
a compendium of characters from Picasso’s world: bullfighters,
musketeers, commedia dell’arte and circus characters, and many other favorites drawn from the artist’s youth in Spain, including an early girlfriend and equestrienne known as Rosita (No. 141)…Another narrative within the Suite 347 is concerned with portrayals of Celestina, the celebrated old hag and go-between
of Spanish fiction.” Marlborough’s exhibition will include a number of impressions from this suite such as the aquatints of May 27, 1968, Suite 347: No. 120 and No. 122, both with images of Celestina, and etchings No. 236, No. 238, and No. 239, all of August 3, 1968, in which Picasso depicts multiple figures.
Marlborough’s show is timed to coincide with three exhibitions of Picasso’s work at important museums in the United States: Picasso: Themes and Variations at The Museum of Modern Art, March 28-September 6, 2010: Picasso and the Avant-Garde in Paris, Philadelphia Museum of Art, February 24, 2010-April 25, 2010 and Picasso in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 27, 2010–
August 1, 2010.
A fully illustrated catalogue, with an essay by Marilyn McCully, will be available at the time of the exhibition. Marilyn McCully taught art history at Princeton University, 1974-81, and since then has worked in London as an independent scholar and editor. She has organized exhibitions in Princeton, Washington and New York, London, Ferrara, Málaga, Istanbul, Auckland and Japan. Current projects include Picasso exhibitions for the Frick Collection,
New York, and the National Gallery, Washington (2011), and for the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, in collaboration with the Museu Picasso, Barcelona (also 2011).