Review: Picasso & the Masters of Print at the Higgins Bedford

Picasso & the Masters of Print opened at The Higgins Bedford on 15th October.  This eye-opening exhibition offers visitors a unique opportunity to view together some of the most important prints by one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.  The seven prints by Picasso held at The Higgins Bedford, span seven decades of his career and spectacularly showcase the varied printmaking techniques that the artist mastered.

As if the Picasso prints weren’t enough to satisfy the gallery visitor, they are accompanied by a wider exhibition of major artists’ original prints drawn from the impressive Cecil Higgins Collection. Five centuries of printmaking are on show, ranging from masterpieces by key figures in the history of European printmaking, such as Dürer and Rembrandt, through to 20th century icons such as Matisse and Warhol, and including contemporary artists such as Paula Rego and Mark Hearld.

Rooster and Railway Carriage by Mark Hearld

(Rooster and Railway Carriage by Mark Hearld, commissiond by the Higgins Bedford)

Renowned for his paintings and sculptures, the exhibition explains that Picasso was also the twentieth century’s greatest printmaker. The Frugal Meal, 1904, is the earliest work in the exhibition and one of the last works of Picasso’s Blue Period. Between 1901 and 1904 depression caused Picasso to withdraw from his social circle. His work became cool and monochromatic. Although these sombre, melancholic works were not initially popular with critics or the public, they are now highly revered. A haunting depiction of an emaciated couple in a café in Montmarte, The Frugal Meal is considered to be one of the masterpieces of twentieth century graphic art.  Only his second attempt at etching, this work clearly demonstrates his gifted draughtsmanship and facility with new mediums.

The show-stopping Still Life with Glass under a Lamp, 1962 is a highlight of the exhibition and one of Picasso’s best known linocuts.

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) Still Life with Glass under a Lamp, linocut on paper, 1962 © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2016. Image courtesy of The Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford (The Higgins Bedford).

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) Still Life with Glass under a Lamp, linocut on paper, 1962 © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2016. Image courtesy of The Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford (The Higgins Bedford).

One of the most fascinating aspects of the exhibition is the description of different print-making techniques and the precision, skill and collaboration required by the artists and their printers.  During the early 1960s, Picasso experimented with linocut printing while living in the south of France. Produced when he was in his eighties, using a groundbreaking technique, Still Life with Glass under a Lamp reveals Picasso’s extraordinary mastery of print. The vibrancy and dynamism of this colourful night-time scene depicting apples next to a glass beneath the glow of a lamp were achieved through a challenging and complex process. Instead of the conventional method of using a separate block for each colour, Picasso developed a single block process, repeatedly cutting and re-using the same block to gradually build up the final image.  Understanding this technique definitely enhanced my appreciation of the print – and print-making in general – and the knowledge that Picasso was in his 80s when he pioneered the process put his incredible talent into perspective.

Alongside the seven Picasso prints, the exhibition showcases the prestigious collection of more than 400 prints housed at The Higgins Bedford.  The collection spans periods, styles and techniques of printmaking and includes the work of leading international artists, including Rembrandt, Goya, Whistler, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Hockney.  In a nutshell, there aren’t any wall-fillers here!


photo by Victoria Partridge

There’s something for everyone, including an interactive lightbox to help younger visitors create their own masterpieces. It’s very theraputic.

Once again, the Higgins Bedford has curated an exhibition that not only showcases their incredible collection, but also informs and entertains.  It’s on our doorstep, so there’s really no excuse to miss it.  If you live further afield, we highly recommend you pay Bedford a visit.  You will not be disappointed.

Higgins Bedford, Castle Lane, Bedford, MK40 3XD


Editor of The Bedford Clanger, organiser behind BedPop, an events manager and a freelance copywriter

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