December 10, 2009  |  Artists
Picasso on Rembrandt

Pablo Picasso. After Rembrandt: Ecce Homo. 1970, published 1978.

Pablo Picasso. After Rembrandt: Ecce Homo. 1970, published 1978. Etching and aquatint. The Museum of Modern Art. The Edgar Wachenheim III Fund, 2009. © 2009 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

There are lots of reasons why a work might be acquired for MoMA’s collection. Sometimes, the intense preparations for an upcoming exhibition provide a great opportunity to step back, take a careful look at what we already have, and see if there are gaps that need to be filled in our holdings of an artist’s work. This was recently the case as we researched an upcoming exhibition that, along with an accompanying catalogue and website, will explore Pablo Picasso’s creative process through the lens of printmaking. We took a close look at MoMA’s Picasso prints by theme, by technique, and by chronology, and discovered that we didn’t have a strong enough representation of Picasso’s late period (from about 1965 to his death in 1973), which has often been overlooked and underappreciated.

In these later years, Picasso turned to printmaking with a vengeance—during a seven-month period in 1968 alone, he made nearly 350 prints! It was also a time when he looked back to the Old Masters. He was particularly interested in Rembrandt, the celebrated seventeenth-century Dutch painter and printmaker: Picasso had studied his etchings, and even projected slides of his paintings onto his studio wall. It was a print by Rembrandt that inspired this work, After Rembrandt: Ecce Homo, which was recently acquired by the Museum. Rembrandt’s image is a religious one, and depicts a biblical scene in which Jesus Christ is presented to the crowd before his crucifixion.

Picasso’s version is a secular one, seeming to show a stage in a theater, filled with the people and characters that had been key players in his life and his art since his early days. With the way the images layer and blend into one another, it’s almost as though memories were rushing back to him, all flooding in with a dreamlike simultaneity, as he looked back over his life. Stay tuned for a closer look when the work goes on view as part of the exhibition Picasso: Themes and Variations, opening at MoMA in March 2010.