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11. Drawing like a child

When he was over 80 years old, Picasso created a series of schematic portraits and heads with a few simple strokes. The zigzagging marks against a blank ground suggest the idea of play, filling the surface with colors he uses to define the space and differentiate features. The empty space beneath turns them into transparent beings. 

“A child sees the face of its mother, it sees it in a completely different way than other people see it, I am not speaking of the spirit of the mother but of the features and the whole face, the child sees it from very near, it is a large face for the eyes of a small one, it
is certain the child for a little while only sees a part of the face of its mother, it knows one feature and not another, one side and not the other, and in his way Picasso knows faces as a child knows them and the head and the body.”
Gertrude Stein. Picasso, 1959, pp. 14-15

Jacqueline in a Straw Hat

Mougins, 14 January 1962
Linocut, gouge and linoleum printed in four inks on paper, 63.8 x 53 cm
Museo Picasso Málaga. Purchased 2010
© Museo Picasso Málaga. Photo: Rafael Lobato © Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid, 2017

Read about Jacqueline in a Straw Hat

The starting point for the period defined as “late Picasso” is now considered to be the early 1960s. While art history needs to define concrete periods, there were still numerous other “Picassos” at that time. This is evident in the present linocut of 1962 depicting Jacqueline, whom the artist had married the year before and who would be his last partner in life. Linocut was one of Picasso’s final techniques, which he first started to use in the 1950s for various posters but which reached a new high point in 1958 with the tour de force of Portrait of a Woman after Cranach the Younger.

Jacqueline in a Straw Hat belongs to the three most intensive years for the artist’s use of this technique, 1959 to 1962. The result was a vast body of work that astonished observers at the time, not only for the combinations and superimpositions of colours but also for the artist’s unorthodox working method. Picasso’s dealer Kahnweiler was amazed when he saw his first works in this medium: “At first he limited himself to three or four colours, now he’s doing prints with twelve colours on a single plate! It’s diabolical” He has to anticipate the effect of each colour as there’s no going back. I don’t know what name to give to this mental operation.” As he did with ceramics, Picasso’s experiments with this new technique took it to its limits in an all-encompassing approach that aimed to discover all its technical procedures and to achieve the most difficult aspect, which is mentally anticipating the final composition.

In Jacqueline in a Straw Hat Picasso created the face using a calligraphy identical to that seen in various drawings of the same day. This is a work in which the artist constructed the face in the most economical way from a combination of straight and curved lines and bright colours which contrast strongly with the white background; a type of colouring and forms that to some extent recall Joan Miró’s graphic language. Once again we have the classic doubling of the face-mirror, which is very similar to the above-mentioned drawings of this date. In fact, in that month of January 1962, Jacqueline’s face would be Picasso’s primary focus, giving rise to various linocuts. This month also saw the start of various celebrated series in the same technique such as his versions of the Danaë and Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. This “penultimate” Picasso breaks out at different moments, embarking on new directions and new experiments which, as in this case, would remain unfinished as he abandoned working in linocut around 1963 with the exception of a few works created up to 1968.

Text: Eduard Vallés