As Picasso Sculpture, currently on view at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, sublimely attests, the great modernists were committed to all manner of media to further their artistic practice. For Picasso, along with his fellow countryman Joan Miró, this included a lifelong love affair with printed matter, many examples of which will compose the first session of the Prints & Multiples sale at Christie’s New York on October 27 and 28.
‘Both artists truly enjoyed the physical act of printmaking,’ says International Department Head Richard Lloyd, who writes in his essay for the sale catelogue, ‘any artist who sustains a continuous effort over many decades has to possess a real affinity for the tactile aspects of the pursuit.’
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Minotaure aveugle guidé par Marie-Thérèse au pigeon dans une nuit étoilée, from La Suite Vollard, 1934. Aquatint and drypoint, on Montval paper. From the edition 260 (there was also an edition of fifty with wider margins). Estimate: $70,000-100,000. This work is offered in the Prints & Multiples sale on 27-28 October at Christie's New York
The fertile experimental ground of 1920s Paris offered both artists their first taste of the medium, but more serious study of the craft was undertaken during the war years, after which their practice deepened into the mid-century. ‘Miró was very happy to work within the tradition of European printmaking in terms of etching and lithography,’ says Lloyd. ‘You get the impression that he was happy to be taught by master printmakers and then work with the tools they gave him.’
Conversely Picasso was a more restless student, taking the information gleaned from his instructors and wielding it in new directions. ‘He was a great rule breaker,’ Lloyd explains. ‘Picasso always liked to do things the printmaker is not meant to do just for the sheer effect of it. Printmaking is bound by a lot of tradition and whereas Miró was happy to work within the parameters, Picasso was — at a glance — more experimental.’
Joan Miró (1893-1983), La Baigneuse, 1938. Drypoint, on wove paper. Numbered ‘2’ême etat I/II’ a previously unrecorded proof before the edition of 38. Estimate: $10,000-15,000. This work is offered in the Prints & Multiples sale on 27-28 October at Christie's New York
The sale’s group of late 1950s and early 1960s Picasso linocuts illustrates how, in no more than four or five years, the artist took a little regarded technique, primarly used as art therapy, to create very basic posters. ‘It was a quick way to make strong graphic images to exhibit his ceramic exhibtions and such,’ Lloyd continues. After these initial experiments, the artist embraced the method, completely revolutionizing it as a technique and then, just as quickly, dropping it after his exploitation was complete. The selection of works in the sale nicely encapsulates ‘the nature of Picasso’s innovations,’ says Lloyd.
While Picasso bent the facilities of printmaking to his will, testing them to near destruction, Miró, descended from a line of craftsmen, was more respectful of the medium’s traditions. ‘Miró is more collegiate and wanted to be part of a team,’ says Lloyd. He learned the art of etching and drypoint in the studio of Louis Marcousis in 1921 and some of these very early attempts were gifted to the shop owner.
But when he came to New York for the first time in 1947, he worked at Stanley Hayter’s Atelier 17 and executed some of his own innovations. The sale features a fine selection of some of the artist’s late carborundum prints, the technique Miró used to realize his ultimate vision of the traditional peintre-graveur’s practice.
Joan Miró (1893-1983), Equinoxe, 1967. Etching with aquatint and carborundum in colors on Mandeure paper. Numbered 69/70. Estimate: $60,000-80,000. This work is offered in the Prints & Multiples sale on 27-28 October at Christie's New York
‘These are the last great flowering of Miró’s talent as a printmaker,’ says Lloyd. ‘They’re large, they’re very colourful, they’re complex. They show him at his most mature.’ It’s these big colour aquatints that show the artist flexing the muscle of his accumulated skill, especially seen in his most famous print, 1967’s Equinox.
Alongside this will stand a small group of the early Surrealist compositions, consigned by the Marcousis family. Both series provide an overview of Miró’s work in the medium from the beginning to the end.
‘The range of marks available to printmaker is almost exhaustive,’ says Lloyd. ‘On top of which compositions can be overlaid with different techniques to mix it up, which is what Miró did toward the end.’
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), La Colombe, 1949. Lithograph, on wove paper. Numbered 46/50 (there were also five artist’s proofs). Estimate: $60,000-80,000. This work is offered in the Prints & Multiples sale on 27-28 October at Christie's New York
Picasso tended to think along straighter lines: drypoints were drypoints; linocuts were linocuts. He didn’t traffic in the complexity of combining different techniques. ‘But, of course, he pushed those in which he worked to the limits,’ the specialist explains. An excellent example is 1949’s La Colombe, considered a masterwork of lithography. ‘He’s pretty much showing you he might be the world’s finest lithographer,’ Lloyd adds. Taken together, these works are truly graphic representations of artistic skill.
For more features, interviews and videos, visit Christie’s Daily