This portrait of Françoise Gilot, Picasso's lover and muse from 1943-1953, is one of the most powerful in Picasso's graphic oeuvre. Gilot, praised by the photographer Brassai for her freshness and restless vitality', was the subject for the famous series of lithographs executed in 1949 Femme au Fauteuil, in which Picasso progressively simplified her elegant, aquiline features through progressive re-workings of the lithographic plates. For Picasso printmaking was a physical process, the struggle with materials an essential part of the creative process. 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 the very limit.
In L'Egyptienne Picasso used sugar-lift aquatint, a technique introduced to him by the famous intaglio printer Roger Lacourière in the 1930's. Using ink mixed with soap and sugar, the image is brushed onto the plate, allowed to dry and 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. The technique allows for a painterly effect, creating washes of dappled tone. Picasso oftened combined sugar-lift with hard-ground line etching (see lot 126). However, in L'Egyptienne, he used it exclusively, fully exploiting its rich, tonal potential. Gilot's features are paired down 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 attributed by dealers and art historians. In this case, the name L'Egyptienne was coined by Lacourière's workshop in reference to Gilot's hairstyle, which resembles an Egyptian head-dress.
This great work would be one of Picasso's last portraits of Gilot before the relationship floundered in the autumn of 1953.