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May 2023

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Exhibit of the month

Date: 19.05.2023 - 31.05.2023
Exhibit of the month

Exhibit of the Month is a series initiated by the Jagiellonian University Museum with the beginning of the new academic year. Each month we will explain the Museum collection to you, choosing a single exhibit or a group of exhibits which usually are not shown to the open public. This month's feature is a colour lithograph created by Pablo Picasso.

Picasso created the lithograph during his stay in Southern France where the artist owned a few illustrious estates. The most famous of them was the Villa La Californie located in Cannes where he lived with his wife Jacqueline Roque between 1955 and 1960. During that period, Picasso created a number of graphic works depicting his workshop filled with painting models, easels, and other objects. The composition is dominated by radiant, clear colours. The Mediterranean green of the garden flows inside through decorative windows. Unfortunately, the turmoil of the seaside resort and intrusive journalists became so tiresome that the painter left La Californie and moved to the historical Château Vauvenargues located near Aix-en-Provence.

According to many researchers of Picasso’s work, the series depicting the artist’s atelier was influenced by Henri Matisse who died in 1954.

The showcased graphic piece was made using the lithography technique invented in 1798 by the native of Bavaria, Alois Senefelder, who managed to perfect it. In 1799, he and Aretin Senfelder established the Lithographic Institute in Munich. The first Polish lithographic studio was founded by Jan Siestrzyński in 1818 whereas colour lithography was introduced to the country during the 1830s. 

The exceptionally dynamic development of lithography lasted through the entire 19th century and later to the outbreak of the First World War. The technique, related to the printing business, was used to copy book illustrations, posters, and product labels, as well as to create large numbers of art reproductions. Soon, it became an independent artistic technique. One of the first artists to apply it was Goya. His first lithographic print dates to 1819. 

Lithography influenced the development of planographic printing, one of the fundamental printing technologies besides relief and intaglio printing. In planographic printing, the printing and non-printing surfaces of the matrix are on the same level. The entire process of making a lithograph is very complex and difficult. It may be briefly described in the following way: the drawing to be copied is made directly on the lithographic stone, i.e. limestone. The drawing is created with the use of ink, a lithographic pencil, and sometimes a feather or brush. The lithography technique relies on the qualities of fat and water: the space greased with a pencil or lithographic ink absorbs printing ink while the areas on the stone which are moistened with water will reject lithographic ink. It is possible due to the fact that water and fat repel each other. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, the function of lithography changed completely. Works of art were reproduced by photography which led to the development of authorial lithography as a purely artistic form of expression. As a graphic technique, lithography can be single-handedly created by an artist in his studio, giving them control over the entire process of printing and letting them apply instant changes and corrections: fillings, retouching, and colour gradation depending on the way the paint is applied to the surface. This type of technique is called autolitography. 

The art of lithography has its followers but has the opinion of being difficult and requiring significant training. In this context, little has changed since its origins. The knowledge of lithography required years of practice accumulated in the skill of masters and as such, it was considered an obscure, almost magical knowledge. Visitors and customers were not allowed to freely explore the studio, because unique methods developed by the printer were to remain a secret of the company and the master lithographer. 

Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973) 


France, 1955, colour lithograph 

Donated to the Jagiellonian University Museum by Janina Haubenstock  

in 1999 

The upper-left corner shows the date, signature, and edition number: 8.11.55 VI Picasso 13/100. 

Bibliography: Mourlot 1956; Picasso, Chagall i in. 1967; Współczesna grafika we Francji 1967, Pablo Picasso 1971 

Author: Mgr Maria Natalia Gajek