Whenever I have something to say, I have said it in a manner in which it ought to be said. Different motives require different methods of expression. This does not imply either evolution or progress, but an adaptation of the idea one wants to express, and the means to express that idea." (Pablo Picasso, The Arts, New York, 1923)
A peculiar mixture of geographic necessity and artistic curiosity led Picasso, at the age of 78, to turn away from etching and lithography, hitherto his favourite means of graphic expression, and take up linocutting, a technique he had all but ignored. Altough linocuts were to form a relatively small part of Picasso's output as a printmaker (approximately 150 images from a total exceeding 2000), he was to produce some of his most oustanding compositions by this method, in a short burst of activity from 1958 to 1963.
Together with Jacqueline Rocque, Picasso left Paris in 1958 and moved permanently to the South of France, dividing his time between 'La Californie' at Cannes, and the newly acquired Château de Vauvenargues, near Aix-en-Provence. In spite of the natural benefits of his new environment, a major practical drawback of this move was the delay in communicating with the ateliers in Paris. There plates could be proofed and returned within hours. Now it took days, and robbed Picasso of direct contact with his printers.
Up to this point, Picasso's involvement with linocutting had been rather casual. He produced a series of simple posters for the village of Vallauris above Cannes, starting with 'La Chèvre' (Bloch 1257) in 1952. Six years later, he embraced it eagerly. Working with a young printer from Vallauris named Arnéra, he attacked an interpretation of Lucas Cranach the Younger's 'Portrait of a Young Girl'. The result was astonishing, given Picasso's relative inexperience, but he found the exercise deeply frustating, because of difficulties in registering six different blocks precisely, one on top of the other.
'Nature morte sous la Lampe' is a direct result of Picasso's attempts to overcome these frustrations, and embody his response to the possibilities the new medium displayed.
In short, Picasso re-invented the technique of linocutting. Rather than use separate blocks, he printed from just one; the so-called 'reduction' method. The uncarved block was printed in one flat colour, and then cut and printed in each successive colour, until in many cases there was little left of the original block. Whilst making the task of registration much simpler, it required tremendous foresight to know how each change in the block would affect the composition as a whole, and provided very little margin for error.
After experimenting with five small Corridas (Baer 1219-1223), his first major excursion was 'Déjeuner sur l'Herbe' (Baer 1287), the largest and most elaborate of five treatments of Manet's masterpiece, followed shortly thereafter by 'Nature morte sous la Lampe' (Baer 1312). In both compositions we see Picasso revelling in the new medium. He relished particularly the physical act of cutting and slicing the linoleum, a matrix which encourages fluid, dynamic strokes. Evident also is the enthusiasm with which he employed the broad areas of opaque colour peculiar to this technique.
In 1964, the Crommelynck brothers settled in nearby Mougins, and established a fully equiped printmaking workshop. After compressing a lifetime's innovation into a few short years, Picasso returned to his etching press.
"Formerly it had been thought that lithography and etching were more noble than the linoleum cut. But just as he had expanded these processes he now enriched - no, created - a medium earlier considered a poor relation of graphic art." (Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, Sixty Years of Graphic Works, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1966).