Unique Picasso linocuts acquired by the British Museum

Two sets of linocuts by Pablo Picasso, made when the artist was 80, have been bought by the British Museum with help from the Art Fund.

The unique sets contain not only the finished works, but also the progressive proofs showing the step-by-step sequence by which Picasso developed the images into their final form. Picasso created over 2,500 prints in his lifetime, making up a significant part of his artistic output.

He began experimenting with linocuts – a printmaking technique in which blocks of linoleum are cut to create the printing surface – in 1939, creating linocut posters for ceramic exhibitions and bullfighting events. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that Picasso fully embraced linocuts, during a period spent working in the south of France.

Picasso developed a new method for creating prints which dispensed with the need to cut a separate block for each colour, instead progressively cutting and printing from a single block. The technique saved huge amounts of time, but also presented tremendous challenges. It required the artist to be able to visualise the completed image at an early stage, and made it impossible to reverse any mistakes made during the cutting process.

The first set of linocuts acquired by the museum features nine progressive proofs and the final print of one of Picasso’s late masterpieces, Still Life under the Lamp, a still life of apples on a table next to a brightly lit goblet. The nine proofs show how Picasso progressively cut and printed from a single block to gradually build an image of increasing complexity.

The second, monochrome set includes four progressive proofs for Jacqueline Reading, a portrait of Picasso’s second wife Jacqueline Roque. The technique differs from the still life, as the artist used two blocks to create the finished piece – one defining the sitter’s head and bust tonally, the other cut to leave just her outline – with the two prints superimposed to create the final work.

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: 'The visual impact, rarity and exceptional quality of the Picasso linocut sets makes them a fantastic acquisition for the British Museum, and one which we are delighted to be supporting.'

Watch our video about the Picasso linocuts, below.

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