This monumental portrait of Françoise Gilot, Picasso's lover and muse from 1943-1953, is considered one of the most compelling and powerful in Picasso's graphic oeuvre. Gilot, who met Picasso in May 1943, soon became the subject of many of his best prints of the period: Femme à la Fenêtre, Vénus et l'Amour, d'après Cranach, and the series of lithographs titled La Femme au fauteuil.
For Picasso printmaking was a physical process and the struggle with materials an integral part of the creative journey. His vigorous, experimental approach led him to many radical departures from traditional printmaking, in which the expressive potential of the plate or stone was stretched to its limit. In L'Egyptienne Picasso used sugar-lift aquatint, a technique introduced to him by the master intaglio printer Roger Lacourière in the 1930's. Using ink mixed with sugar and soap, the image is brushed onto the plate, allowed to dry, then covered with stopping-out varnish. The plate is then immersed in water. As the sugar swells it lifts the varnish, leaving the plate exposed where it had previously been covered by the brush drawing, to be aquatinted and bitten in the normal manner. This technique allows for soft painterly effects, creating washes of dappled tone. Gilot's elegant and aquiline features are exaggerated and stylised into broad, inky sweeps, dramatically contrasting with the pitted plate tone of the background. The effect is strikingly beautiful.
As Picasso rarely titled his prints, titles have generally been ascribed by dealers and art historians. The name L'Egyptienne was given by Lacourière's workshop in reference to Gilot's hairstyle, which resembles an Egyptian head-dress.
This great work was to be amongst Picasso's last portraits of Gilot before the relationship floundered in the autumn of 1953.