Linocut printed on Arches wove One of three impressions, of which one was printed on Arches, of the second (final) state (There was no edition printed of this image.) Printed by Arnéra Image: 10 3/4 x 13 5/8 inches Framed: 23 1/4 x 28 1/4 inches (Baer 1334.II)
“[When I work] I have a feeling that Delacroix, Giotto, Tintoretto, El Greco, and the rest, as well as all the modern painters, the good and the bad, the abstract and the non-abstract, are all standing behind me watching me …”i Picasso decided early on that he wished to be a great artist and voraciously explored the history of art in all forms, committing them to memory. As implied by the famous quote above, he held his own work to the standard of the artists he admired. In addition to those mentioned above, Picasso thought of Rembrandt as the greatest among greats, and was intimately familiar with the Dutch master’s work in both painting and etching. Drawing on this vast database images in his head, Picasso often borrowed from the great works of his predecessors, each time making the subject and composition his own.
Picasso never titled his prints however scholar Brigitte Baer has interpreted Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife as such an example of the artist’s dialogue with the past. The Biblical story of the attempted seduction of the enslaved Joseph by his master’s wife, whose advances he rejects, has been treated by a number of the artists he respected.
In her analysis of the impression in the Marina Picasso collection, Baer notes the similarities between Picasso’s composition and that of Rembrandt’s etching (fig. 1) and Tintoretto’s painting (fig. 2) of the same subject. In all three compositions, the woman is prone in bed while Joseph wrenches himself from her grasp.ii Likewise, art historian Janie Cohen notes similarities between Rembrandt’s 1634 etching and Picasso’s “rolling forms and …dramatic contrasts of light and dark”.iii
Yet Picasso takes the subject a step further than either Tintoretto or Rembrandt into the irreverent realm of comedy, thus modernizing the subject. The woman’s splayed limbs add a sense of ribaldry to the scene and both figures are in awkward, imbalanced positions. Their stylized and somewhat cartoonish features emphasize the humor in the situation; Joseph’s boyish alarm is palpable, as is the frustration of the spurned temptress. The dynamic graphic lines of the image emphasize the intensity of the outrageous exchange.
The current impression is extremely rare—one of three of the second and final state (there was no edition). Picasso’s attitude toward printmaking was similar to that of writing in a journal, and many of his prints were intended primarily for personal enjoyment with no intention to publish. These prints show the inner workings of the artist’s mind—some are sweet and whimsical, while others, such as the present example, reveal his racy sense of humor.
Fig. 1: Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (Bartsch 39), 1634, etching, 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches. Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons (Rijkmuseum, Netherlands)
i Pablo Picasso quoted in Hélène Parmelin, Picasso Says (South Brunswick, NJ: A.S. Barnes, 1969), 40 ii Baer, Picasso the Printmaker: Graphics from the Marina Picasso Collection [Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1983], 171. iii “Picasso’s Dialogue with Rembrandt’s Art” in Etched on the Memory: The Presence of Rembrandt in the Prints of Goya and Picasso. V+K Pub./Inmerc.: Blaricum, The Netherlands; The Rembrandt House Museum: Amsterdam; and Lund Humpries: Aldershot, UK, 2000, 92.