Provenance:Galerie Beyeler, Basel. Exhibited Galerie Beyeler, 1985;
Swiss Private Collection, since 1985.
Mourlot – Picasso Project no 127;
Güse-Rau – Picassio Lithographs no 365.
Further information:One of the great works from Picasso's supreme years of inspiration in the medium of lithography in the late 1940's.
Picasso began to use chalk-drawn lithography as a basically linear drawing medium as early as 1919. However very shortly after the Liberation of Paris in 1944, driven by his passion for printmaking, he began to want to understand the possibilities of lithography more fully. In late 1945 he contacted Fernand Mourlot, the owner of the greatest European lithography studio, and in November 1945 Picasso drew his first lithograph there.
It was a crucial moment in his graphic work. The facilities and the genius of Mourlot as a lithographic printer revolutionised his concept of what was visually possible. Over the following three years his passion for the handling and play of the ink on the stone or plate surface grew and grew. So in parallel did his desire to find totally new ways of harnessing the special visual effects achievable with lithography and, most importantly, how these effects could expand his artistic ideas.
In November 1948 this experimentation reached an outstanding peak of inspiration in a series of works exploring the visual effects of creating an imagery which, in place of the conventional use of a line or brushstroke of black ink against a white background, was worked in reverse, from a rich velvety black into white highlights. The stone was first covered in a smooth over-tone to be inked in flat black. The lines and highlights of the image were then created with a scraper removing the black, first to make open areas of light and then also again with a fine point scraper to create the most delicate of lines.
On November 20th 1948, working in this way, he drew a portrait of Françoise, her face and the lines of her long hair gleaming out of the darkness. On the 21st of November, the next day, he developed the theme even further in the 'abstract' portrait study opposite. Within a framework of the most delicate scraped lines for her hair, glowing from the black surround, he reduced her face and form to an abstract but wonderfully beautiful pattern of light and shadow. It is still absolutely her portrait, but expressed through its essence. This is the genius of his understanding of composition and his sense of how a medium itself could inspire his visual invention to its very greatest heights.