Picasso’s Print PartnershipsAn exhibition highlights some unsung collaborators; dark themes, splashy color
In his seven decades of steady output, Pablo Picasso got a crucial assist in his art-making from two major groups of people. Foremost were his muses, the wives and lovers who filled up his life and canvasses and have long been recognized as a key influence. But a second, much less acknowledged set of partners has been lurking just out of view—his printers. An exhibit in New England should bring them newfound attention.
“Picasso: Encounters,” which opens June 4, will feature prized versions of Picasso’s most admired prints and bring their producers out of obscurity. Featuring loans from New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Paris’s Picasso Museum, the exhibition at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., covers the early 1900s to 1970, three years before the artist’s death at 91.
By some measures, Picasso’s printers had a higher standing in his life than his muses, says Jay Clarke, the exhibition’s curator. Picasso “treated women terribly,” but “he had respectful and collaborative relationships with his printers. He needed their expertise.”
That will include Eugène Delâtre, who produced the earliest print in the 38-work exhibition, the haunting 1904 etching “The Frugal Repast.” The young Picasso, who had recently moved to Paris, closed out his dark-themed Blue Period with this graphic depiction of two wastrels, possibly on the fringes of Paris bohemia. At the time, Ms. Clarke says, “Picasso was interested in outsiders.” Delâtre (1864–1938) was a printer and artist whose starry list of collaborators included Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Wary of interference, Delâtre kept Picasso out of the actual printing process.
In 1937, Picasso was completing his now legendary black-and-white painting “Guernica,” a mural-sized homage to the Basque town bombed by Nazi and fascist Italian planes during the Spanish Civil War. Around that time, art historian and curator Anne Wagner says, he drew a weeping woman—an image that then seemed to take over his art, appearing in everything from paintings to prints. With Lacourière, Picasso made four versions of “The Weeping Woman”—a howling depiction of grief and pain, and, in its first and largest version, his single best-known print.
The crying woman in all her iterations is often regarded as a de facto portrait of Dora Maar, the surrealist photographer who carried on a tempestuous affair with the artist from the mid-1930s until the mid-1940s. In the print, Maar’s distinctive mane of slick black hair and claw-like fingernails frame a face convulsed with suffering. The Williamstown exhibition contrasts three versions of the print with a 1937 painting of Maar, this time looking strong and seductive.
Among print collectors, “The Weeping Woman” is one of the most prized Picassos. Séverine Nackers, head of prints at Sotheby’s London, says collectors have traditionally paid most for its first version, along with “The Frugal Repast” and another 1930s Lacourière collaboration, “Minotauromachia.” In 2014, “The Weeping Woman I” set a record for a print by a 20th-century artist, selling at a Sotheby’s London auction for more than $5.2 million (at exchange rates of that time), nearly double its high presale estimate.
More Picasso exhibitions are on this summer across the Atlantic. At Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum, “Pity and Terror: Picasso’s Path to Guernica” traces the artist’s development from the 1920s. In London’s Gagosian Gallery, an exhibition emphasizes Picasso’s lifelong fascination with bullfighting and bulls. More than a third of the 122 works are prints, including all seven variations of “Minotauromachia.” That surreal work shows a Minotaur—the monster of ancient Greek legend with the head of a bull and body of a man—menacingly intruding on a beach gathering.
While those 1930s prints are highly sought after, many collectors don’t stop there. “I just love the progression” from the early 1900s to the late color prints, says New York collector Nelson Blitz Jr., and several he owns will join the Clark exhibition.