Femme au chapeau de paille bleue
Femme au chapeau de paille bleue (Baer 1282)

1962 (January 16, Mougins)

Linocut printed in red, yellow and blue from two plates on Arches with Arches watermark
One of eighty-seven impressions
Marina Picasso Collection oval stamp on verso
Printed by Arnéra
Image: 13 3/8 x 10 5/8 inches
Sheet: 24 3/4 x 17 1/2 inches
Framed: 30 x 24 3/4 inches
(Baer 1282.B.b)

This complex three-color linocut printed in red, yellow and blue from two plates was made at the height of a period of prolific linocut activity, when Picasso was experimenting obsessively with the medium. The artist’s initial forays into linocut, begun in 1951, comprise a series of posters advertising local arts and crafts exhibitions and bullfights that he created with the help of Hidalgo Arnéra (1922-2007), a local printer whose convenient proximity permitted the artist to speed up his printing processes. Creating an etching or a lithograph – Picasso’s previous printing methods – had become an exceedingly lengthy and complex activity after his move to the south of France in the late 1940s as, in the absence of any trusted printing workshop nearby, the artist’s plates had to be transported back and forth to Paris. But with the discovery of Arnéra’s printing workshop, the situation changed dramatically. Picasso made his first independent linocut in 1958, quickly becoming frustrated by the fiddly and time-consuming process involved in cutting a new linocut block for each color, often resulting in imperfect registration. Innovative as always, at Arnéra’s suggestion Picasso simplified this procedure the following year through a different approach in which he carved successive stages of his image into a single block in a carefully planned order, permitting him to print progressively in different colors. Known as the reduction technique, this resulted in the bright, flat colors and bold patterning of linocut that now become part of Picasso’s visual repertoire in print, hitherto limited, almost exclusively, to the fine linear detail and rich black inky tones of etching, aquatint and lithography.

 

Created on January 19, 1962, in Picasso’s new home in the village of Mougins in the hills above Cannes, Femme au chapeau de paille bleue demonstrates the artist’s virtuoso skill and innovation in his new medium. After cutting away most of the surface of the first linocut block to reveal – in relief – the definition of the face, eyes, nose and hair for the first state of the image to be printed in yellow, Picasso further refined this linocut by delicately incising the woman’s features for the second state to be printed in red. This left only the eyes, the tear, the nostril, the line of the profile, and the texture of the hair on either side of the face which, as Baer notes, on the right side creates a kind of sheaf (une sorte de faisceau) relating to the straw of the blue hat as named in the title (Brigitte Baer, Picasso Peintre-Graveur, Tome V, Bern 1989, p.366). For the next state, of which this impression is an example, Picasso cut the shape of the hat, the further straw-like texture of the hair on either side of the face, and the patterning on the collar and shoulder of the garment the woman is wearing into a second linocut that was printed in light blue over the first two layers of yellow and red (Baer 1282.B.b). Our impression is one of eighty-seven printed on Arches by Arnéra; from the Marina Picasso Collection, it has the Marina Picasso Collection oval stamp on the verso.

 

The composition represented in Femme au chapeau de paille bleue clearly was of great significance to Picasso, preoccupying him over several days in mid-January 1962 when he created more than one version of this portrait of his new wife Jacqueline Roque (1927-86) wearing a straw hat. His lover since the mid-1950s and the subject of innumerable paintings and prints produced in the 1950s and 1960s, Jacqueline was known for her submissive behavior and her devotion to the ageing artist. Her large almond-shaped eyes and her elegant long-nosed profile became an icon in Picasso’s late work. The depiction of a straw hat in the middle of winter suggests that the sunny weather it evokes was symbolized for the artist by his happy and fulfilled relationship with his last great muse. Dominated by red and yellow – evoking summery warmth and brilliant light – it portrays Jacqueline as an emblem of harmony and serenity. Although viewed frontally, her face also contains profile elements, recalling the artist’s early cubist innovations and his engagement with his subject not only from a visual perspective, but also from a tactile one.  As the art historian Richard Shiff described: ‘Picasso’s tactile act prefigured his visual perception. Tactile experience tended to be his model for the visual … The double facial profile (which resembles a frontal view) represents the tactile experience of a head in the round. To sight, it may appear as two or more aspects, projected onto the flat. To touch, it represents the continuity of actual tactile experience, which, like and image projected onto a ball, threatens to “slip away” from one’s conceptual grasp, moving (as if simultaneously) in every direction.’ (Richard Schiff, ‘The young painter’, in Picasso: The Last Decades, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, p.36.) Here the profiled nose on the left side of the face and the profiled lips and chin on the right suggest the artist’s hands moving up to stroke the contours of either side of his love’s face, while he looks deeply into her wide and brilliant eyes.