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Femme au Voile, Modèle assis et Tête de Rembrandt (Bloch 215)

1934 (January 31, Paris)

Etching printed on Montval laid paper with Vollard watermark
From the Suite Vollard (S.V. 35), edition of 260 
Inscribed "370" in pencil, lower left margin; "215, 370, 19643" in pencil, verso, upper left
Printed by Lacourière, 1939
Published by Vollard, 1939
Image: 10 7/8 x 7 3/4 inches
Sheet: 17 3/4 x 13 3/8 inches
Framed: 23 1/16 x 19 5/8 inches
(Bloch 215) (Baer 414.B.d)

Picasso once said that he could feel the presence of the great masters that came before him in the studio, looking over his work. In this etching, an image of Rembrandt seems to hover in the window, like an apparition, over the two models. It is almost as if Picasso has presented us with his own view as he works. The beautiful young models seem unaware of the Dutch artist’s presence, further reinforcing the idea that he is only visible to the artist.

 

Rembrandt’s skill and innovation in the medium of etching was a particular challenge to Picasso and he aspired to match the old master’s achievement in his own intaglio work—and began to make significant progress toward this goal around the time this plate was created. Picasso delighted in pushing the conventional boundaries of the medium, much to the dismay of his printers. As noted by Picasso scholar Brigitte Baer, “while he was obliged to accept the fact that there were rules, Picasso’s very character would have made him reject them…The conventional techniques, misused and mistreated, are forced to yield to the circumstances. Anything goes in order to give form to his conceptions”.i

 

In the case of this etching, the uneven grayish shading that appears in the drapery and background, which would traditionally be interpreted as a “mistake,” was likely an experiment to obtain the effect of an ink wash without the use of aquatint. Though it can be difficult to retrace the technique used for such an unconventional approach, he likely scraped the ground to the point that there was little left to hold the ink once the area had been etched. As a result, the ink pools around the edges and is wiped clean from the center, leaving silvery areas with a reverse halo.

 

The current impression is from the edition of 260 printed on Montval laid paper watermarked “Vollard” and “Picasso”. (There was also an edition of fifty with wide margins and a separate watermark, and a small edition of three.) It was printed by Roger Lacourière in late 1938 or early 1939. The untimely death of Ambroise Vollard in the summer of 1939 delayed their commerce until 1948 when the prints were acquired by dealer Henri Petiet through the Vollard estate.

 

 

i Picasso the Engraver: Selections from the Musée Picasso, Paris The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1997, 56.