Lithographs are a special medium all their own in the art world. Referenced as many different names depending on the specialist, there is no denying the pull they had on major 20th century artists such as Chagall, Matisse, Monet, Miró and Picasso. Seen as a new form of experimentation and expression, the lithograph played an important role in the artist’s ability to produce their art in large numbers while challenging their artistic technicality and creativity. Picasso’s art is a stunning symbol of creativity and ingenuity and although his oeuvre ranges from paintings, ceramics, glass, linocuts and etchings, lithographs are his enduring legacy.
“He looked, he listened, he did the opposite of what he had learnt- and it worked,” Mourlot, the famous publisher and printer, once said of Picasso’s lithography skills. It worked because he tried to understand from his very first time the real nature of lithography. A printmaking process where the design is drawn or painted on a flat surface of a stone with a greasy crayon or ink; the design is then chemically fixed onto the stone with a weak solution and in printing, the stone is flooded with water which is absorbed everywhere except where repelled by the greasy ink. Oil-based printer’s ink is then rolled on the stone, which is repelled in turn by the water-soaked areas and accepted only by the drawn design. A piece of paper is laid on the stone and it is run through the press with light pressure, the final print showing neither a raised nor embossed quality but lying entirely on the surface of the paper.
Such dedicated craftsmanship and skill is required for this long and tedious process, that once the work is printed there is no editing it like one can with other mediums which is what some people say attracted Picasso to the medium: the presentation of truth. In his lifelong quest to transmit his thoughts and secure his legacy, Picasso sought out lithography and had such a respect for the craft and curiosity for the material that he was dedicated to creating masterpieces in the medium.
From the beautiful portrait Jacqueline at the Easel, 1956 to the hauntingly poetic Femme au Corsage à to the elegant Fleurs 1958 to the colorful Figure au Corsage rayé, 1949 to the playful Football, 1961 his lithographs are vast and diverse, and that is due to his dedication. The artisans that surrounded him for years in the workshop have remarked how it was a true passion for him. Working long hours and being ever the perfectionist, he was friendly, entertaining, and bit crazy. A man whose work was his own and was not to be retouched, every little detail was important and put there for a reason.
Lithography, like all artistic mediums, call for the artist’s most complete form of expression, creativity, and pressure. Unlike others however, it involves an aspect of craftsmanship which conditions the artist as it requires many stages and is fixed. This is the ultimate representation of Picasso as a person and artist. A man who strove to challenge himself in new ways as he was never satisfied with the beauty that he surrounded himself with because there was always more waiting to be released from inside. When asked what difference there was between his choice of mediums, Picasso replied they were all different, but what one was searching for in all of them was always the same.