Picasso the printmaker

Picasso’s “Portrait of a Young Lady (After Cranach the Younger)”

Even Picasso’s admirers have to admit that their beloved painter would be nothing without the masters. I don’t mean only as sources of inspiration but as actual source material. Owing his legacy to his famous interpretations of even more famous original paintings like Manet’s “Luncheon on the Grass” and Velazquez’s “Las Meninas,” Picasso is one of the great cover artists of the 20th century. But what he lacked in original composition he more than made up for with a long and prolific career that included nearly every medium available to him. The medium that the new MoMA exhibit is concerned with, however, is printmaking. “Picasso: Themes and Variations” (a real snoozer of a title, unfortunately) showcases 100 of his etchings, lithographs and linocuts, many of which are based on the work of other artists like Rembrandt and Lucas Cranach the Younger (and the Elder too).

While Picasso dabbled in printmaking in the early 1900s it wasn’t until the 1930s that he became serious about it and turned out a sizable amount of work. His first subjects? Whoever was handy, namely his wives and lovers. Of course, it won’t surprise anyone that even though the etchings from this period are indeed portraits of his bedfellows, according to scholars the resulting images are more in the way of “autobiographical portraits” since they reflect the artist’s own moods rather than those of those sitter. Perhaps this is why Picasso’s, shall we say artist-inspired works are among his best. They may not be completely original but they show all of the skill and none (or almost none) of the ego.