Pablo Picasso
March 7, 1949

An original hand-signed Pablo Picasso lithograph print.

(Bust on a Starry Background)

March 7, 1949

Original lithograph printed in black ink on wove paper bearing the “Arches” script watermark

Hand-signed in red crayon lower right Picasso, dated (incorrectly) on the stone upper left “7.4.49”.

A superb impression of the definitive state, from the edition of 50, numbered in red crayon lower left (there at least 8 additional impressions reserved for the artist and the printer).  Published by Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris; printed at Atelier Fernand Mourlot, Paris.

Catalog: Bloch 594; Mourlot 163; Güse/Rau 444; Reusse 476; Picasso Project 163.

25 x 19 5/8 inches

The importance to Picasso of lithography as a medium is demonstrated by the fact that only a month after the end of World War II in 1945 he was in Paris starting to work at the lithography workshop of Fernand Mourlot.  Over the following three years he spent much of his time at the Mourlot atelier where he created some of his most inspired prints.  In late 1948 and early 1949, after a period at Vallauris, Picasso was again back at Mourlot’s studio.  During this period he was working on a series of studies of women’s heads, inspired by his love affair with Françoise Gilot.  These encompass the artist’s greatest achievements in the medium of lithography.
The portraits of Françoise from this period are also marked by the extraordinary invention which Picasso incorporated into his exploration of the medium.  Many of the techniques that he employed were of his own creation and flouted all technical conventions.  In “Buste au fond étoilé” he wanted to capture a special quality of light on Françoise’s face.  Instead of using a combination of line and conventional shading he decided to work in reverse, that is white on black.  To achieve this he covered a sheet of paper in a gouache wash and scraped away lines and shading so that they appeared white against the paper surface.  This sheet of paper was then transferred onto the lithographic stone.  The resulting black areas were further worked with scraper and wet brush to heighten the contrast between the free line and tonal highlight.  The combination of negative and positive, for example the manner in which the tone values on Françoise cheeks seem to be both defined by a reversed ‘white on black’ contour yet also modeled in ‘positive’ tonal values, is a wonderfully beautiful and evocative way of expressing his view of her beauty.
The finest of Picasso’s portraits of Françoise from this period are amongst the greatest masterworks created in the medium of lithography during the entire 20th century.