By recording intermediate states of artworks, lithography provides a rare opportunity for the viewer to see inside artists’ minds. To make a lithograph, the artist draws the image on a limestone plate with a special ink, and the image is printed to paper from the stone. It is very convenient for the artist to modify the image by adding or subtracting ink on the same stone. By printing each intermediate state to paper, the artist can easily keep a history of his creative process.
The Norton Simon Museum has a long history of collecting Picasso prints. Norton Simon, the museum’s namesake, purchased 850 Picasso prints in 1977 from the collection of Fernand Mourlot. More than 80 Picasso prints were on view last month at the Norton Simon Museum, including “The Bull” and “Long-Haired Young Girl”.
Not many artists valued the intermediate steps of the artistic creation process as much as Picasso did. He was interested in investigating his own thought process, and consciously wanted to document his “states of mind”. Since he met the French lithographer Mourlot Frères in 1945, Picasso produced 185 lithography plates in the next three years, and more than 400 plates by the end of the 1960s.
“The Bull” is one of the most famous lithographs by Picasso. The full transition from a realistic behemoth to a simple outline demonstrates how the artist searched for the spirit of the bull in the process of abstraction. From the first plate to the second plate, Picasso bulks up the bull to make the image more powerful. Starting from Plate 3, the bull is dissected by muscle and skeleton contours as if in a butcher shop. As the simplification process continued, the image lightens with a more elegant sense of balance. In particular, the head shrinks, the front sharpens, and a tail appears. In Plate 10, the bull is reduced to a line drawing – except that the bull’s reproductive organ remains shaded to indicate its gender. With all the careful consideration in each step, Picasso shows us in the final plate what he considers to be the absolute essence of the bull.