Danaé
Danaé (Bloch 1084)

1962 (January 22 and February 25, Mougins)

Linocut printed on Japon paper in black and blue ink
Trial proof from state I of IV (Galerie Louise Leiris published an edition of 50 of the fourth state)
Signed by the artist in pencil, lower right
Inscribed "Ajouter du blanc" ("add white") by another hand in pencil, lower left
Printed by Arnéra
Image: 10 1/2 x 13 5/8 inches 
Sheet: 13 3/8 x 17 inches
Framed: 23 3/4 x 26 3/8 inches
(Bloch 1084) (Baer1286.I)

Danaé was made during a period of prolific linocut activity, when Picasso was experimenting obsessively with the medium. T he 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, which had become exceedingly lengthy after his move to the south of France in the late 1940s, when his plates had to be transported back and forth to Paris in the absence of any trusted printing workshop in the south. Picasso made his first independent linocut in 1958, quickly becoming frustrated by the fiddly and time-consuming process involved in cutting a new linoleum block for each color, a process that often resulted 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, in order to print progressively in different colors. Known as the reduction technique, this permitted the bright, flat colors and bold patterning of linocut to become part of Picasso’s visual repertoire in print, which up until now had been limited, almost exclusively, to the fine linear detail and rich black inky tones of etching and lithography.

 

Created on January 22nd and February 25th 1962 at Picasso’s new villa Notre Dame de Vie in the hills north of Cannes, Danaé admirably demonstrates the artist’s skill in his new medium. Taken through four states with five colours printed from a single linoleum block, the composition was clearly considered significant by Picasso and indeed it is an unusual one. While the sleeping young woman whose naked body is displayed in voluptuous abandon recalls the many neo-classical depictions of the artist’s young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter (1909-77) in his graphic works of the 1920s and 1930s, the broad black vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines that interweave the composition have no such precedent, suggesting rather Picasso’s interest in the varying weights of line that linocut could combine. In her catalogue raisonné of Picasso’s prints, Brigitte Baer suggests that these represent ‘a kind of cabinet sitting on trestles’i; perhaps given the structure’s transparency, it should rather be thought of as a screen that serves to frame and hold in place the sleeping nude. The subject of the print, Danaé, was a princess of Argos in the Greek Peloponessos, a descendent of the mythological priestess Io. Locked away by her father King Akrisios, who had heard a prophecy that he was destined to be killed by his daughter’s son, she was impregnated by the god Zeus in the form of a golden shower. The child she thus conceived was a boy whom she named Perseus. Attempting to rid himself of his unwanted grandson, Danaé’s father placed his daughter and her infant in a chest and set them afloat at sea. But instead of drowning as he had hoped they drifted safely to the island of Seriphos, where a fisherman brought them ashore and welcomed them into his house. Later when Perseus was an adult, King Polydektes of Seriphos desired Danaé for a wife and, attempting to rid himself of her son, sent Perseus to slay the Gorgon. On the hero’s return he discovered that his mother had fled to the temple of Athena to escape rape by the king, and in anger he used the Gorgon’s head to turn Polydektes and his allies to stone. Danaé and Perseus then returned to Argos and claimed King Akrisios’s throne. The subject of Danaé’s chamber being infiltrated by the golden god appealed to many old master painters from Titian (1485-1576) to Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69), so it is not surprising that Picasso turned to it at this time—during his own old master period. His image evokes both the young woman’s alluring desirability and future significance as the mother of a dynasty in her large rounded limbs, splayed buttocks and prominent breasts—all simultaneously on display in classic cubist deconstructive style and held in place by the imprisoning linear structure. The shower of golden coins does not appear until the third and fourth states of the print; in the first state the entire composition was drawn in negative and printed in off-white over a black background. In the second state yellow was added to Danaé’s body and the background behind the bed. In the third state red was added to the figure’s hair and the right side of her body, including her right leg and foot, buttock, breast, her right arm and hand. Red also now covers the background apart from the central shower of golden coins that remain yellow. In the final (fourth) state the background becomes blue, the rest of the image remaining as in the third state.

 

This rare impression is a trial proof from the first state. It is printed in black and the blue later used in the fourth state, instead of the off-white of the final edition of approximately 80 of the first state as cited by Baer.ii It is signed at the lower right in pencil, and annotated with the words “ajouter du blanc” (“add white”) at the lower left, also in pencil.

 

 

i Brigitte Baer, Picasso: Peintre-graveur, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre gravé et des monotypes, Vol. V, Bern 1994, no.1286, p.374.
ii Ibid.