Frederick Mulder Ltd
The Vallauris Posters by Pablo Picasso
The Vallauris Posters by Pablo Picasso
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Frederick Mulder Ltd is delighted to be presenting individual impressions of the Vallauris posters by Pablo Picasso as well as a complete collection of all Vallauris posters. The town of Vallauris, where Picasso lived, asked him to design the advertising posters of its annual ceramics exhibitions from 1951 to 1964, the “Exhibition posters”, and of its corridas from 1954 to 1960, the “Toros posters”; all Exposition and Toros posters were printed by Hidalgo Arnéra, Picasso’s young linocut printer, and our impressions come from his Archives so an impeccable provenance.
Only 197 subjects, among around 2,430 Picasso’s known prints are engravings from linoleum, also known as linocuts, and 24 are Vallauris posters, which are said to be one of the catalysts that spurred the artist on this new adventure. The thing that makes them remarkable among Picasso’s graphic production is their brightly coloured flat areas; they are also easy to read, for they are large, consist of simplified forms and have a limited range of colours. They are therefore particularly well suited to the appreciation of contemporary art and continue to be sought after by collectors.
The Vallauris posters have two characteristics that set them apart from posters of the time. Whereas composition and the typography would usually be clearly separated, with Picasso composition and typography are intertwined; they are of equal value, and one cannot exist without the other. For instance, in the 1955 poster below, he transforms a ceramic, probably a plate, into a laughing sun resembling a smiley emoticon; and he also creates small human figures from the letters l, a and r of Vallauris. The artist does not even use professional typography. He very carefully cuts them out in linoleum as if they had been handwritten, thus continuing to unify text and image. Yet, he does not neglect the commercial function of posters: not only does he draw the letters with thick lines but he also creates strong colour contrast between letter and image to make the poster legible from a distance. Linocuts printed in flat colour areas lend themselves well to contrast and Picasso had them printed in two or more bright colours, like in the Toros posters of 1956 below. He also played on their size: 76 x 91 cm on average, the posters are larger than usual and visible from afar. The lettering generally covers a third of the composition and serves as a heading or subtitle but can also become the body of the poster. Secondly, in addition to unifying image and text, the artist simplifies the design by reducing it to essentials. He merely indicates the place, Vallauris, the year and whether the poster is announcing a fair or a corrida, a successful formula he repeated year after year.
However, Picasso’s real skill lay in his aptitude to describe in each poster a personal attachment, an element of his daily life, simplified to such a degree that he created a universal message that everyone can understand – from the personal to the universal. Thus in 1951 the Exposition poster features a child, probably Claude or Paloma, and in the 1953 shown below he depicts a family. He thus does not make any direct reference to the ceramics, perfumes or flowers sold at the Vallauris fair, but represents his everyday life, which could be anyone’s life. The most obvious visual link between the fair and the posters is found in the 1956 design, which represents a joyous Madoura plate, a plate that became a human face in the Exposition poster and a scene from a corrida in the Toros poster as presented below. The posters for the 1957 and 1962 exhibitions with that of 1962 shown below are the only narrative ones; they depict potters, ovens, and ceramics.
What is evident in all of these posters is Picasso’s joie de vivre and his attachment to his work and to the Côte d’Azur. He is able to successfully convey his feelings when describing a familiar object or scene, but pared down to essentials in order to reflect the joyful and vibrant atmosphere of Vallauris and the South of France, his new discovery, his Arcadia, a universal Arcadia.
Above Image: Detail of 'Vallauris 1956 Toros' by Pablo Picasso
'Joie de vivre' in Vallauris, 1955. Photograph by André Villers.
"His linocut work was so broad, so fertile. I wonder what talented expert, genius even, could reach the level of his technique."
- Hidalgo Arnéra, Picasso’s young linocut printer
From “Les linoléums de Vallauris”, XXe siècle, special issue “Hommage à Picasso”, 1971, p. 100
The triumphal arc of Vallauris, 1955. Photograph by André Villers.
Having created over 2,400 prints, Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973) is considered the most prolific engraver of the 20th century. According to Brigitte Baer, who compiled the catalogue raisonné of his prints, the artist had a deep passion for printmaking. The technical expertise and artisanal knowhow needed to create prints particularly interested him. But to etch, to paint a lithographic zinc plate or to carve a lino block, one needs a flawless technique and the help of a printer, indeed a true craftsman is required to run the sheet off the press. It is also difficult to create a moving etching; anyone can play around with a stylus on a copper plate, but to create, to reveal emotions through a print is both demanding and delicate. It was precisely these challenges that captivated Picasso, who confronted artists such as Cranach, Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya and Munch, who incidentally are also considered the greatest masters of printmaking. However, Picasso is a modern artist, eager and impatient. He never ceased to break artistic boundaries and to explore new printing techniques, subjecting them to his own desires, even if it meant manhandling them. This ability to avoid established cannons and methods has been pointed out by all the craftsmen with whom he worked, and linocutting, the art of engraving on a block of linoleum, was no exception.
Picasso practiced linocutting abundantly, in collaboration with Hidalgo Arnéra (1922-2007), the young printer with whom he worked for fourteen years. Only just under 200 subjects, among Picasso’s known prints are linocuts. Except for two of them, all these linocuts were created between 1954 and 1968, when Picasso was in his 80s. Even though the artist created most of them once he had left Vallauris, the linocuts are closely associated with the small town. Only 7 - 16 blocks – or plates – were cut in Vallauris; the others were cut at La Californie in Cannes, at the château of Vauvenargues and at Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins. However, all the sheets were printed in Vallauris at the Arnéra press named after its owner. Contrary to his Spanish-sounding first name, Hidalgo Arnéra was of Italian not of Spanish origin. His father was a printer and it was in his workshop that the young Hidalgo mastered his trade. During the war he was sent to Austria for compulsory labour service, where he learnt the linocut technique. The first meeting between Arnéra and Picasso dates to 1948, at the Nérolium, the venue where the Vallauris ceramics fairs were held, but it was in 1954, for the Toros poster, that their collaboration truly took shape.
Mainly associated with the fields of commercial printing and education, and until then considered a minor art, linocut gained its reputation with Picasso. By revealing the capacities, refinements, and subtleties of linocutting, Picasso created powerful works and enabled the medium to affirm itself as an art in its own right. Consequently, posters and artistic linocuts were the object of limited editions respectively published by Association des potiers de Vallauris and the Louise Leiris gallery in Paris; they were collected by private individuals and museums all around the world.
Once again, the artist mastered a technique in order to expand it. It was a conquest he would not have been able to attain without the help of Arnéra. Indeed, he found in the young printer the ideal companion for experimentation, one totally devoted, who made his skill as a draftsman and his extensive knowledge of linoleum available to him. Nor should one forget the pleasure the artist had in sharing the act of creating, a pleasure little mentioned but which is present in all his collaborations. Arnéra felt it, experienced it and appreciated it. It is the pleasure of an ordinary life based on work and going beyond one’s limits, with simplicity and camaraderie. A daily pleasure that Picasso enjoyed with other craftsmen in Vallauris and in a sense, with the town itself, and which is a testament to his attachment to this community.
N.B.: Hidalgo Arnéra was very surprised and impressed at the ease with which Picasso understood and acquired a sense for linoleum. Interview between Hildalgo Arnéra and Anne-Françoise Gavanon in June 2004 at Vallauris. Information in relation to the working relationship between Picasso and Arnéra has equally been gathered during this interview.