The works in this collection are early proofs printed long before their respective editions were pulled, and are richer in contrast than the regular editions. They are before steel facing of the plate, and were kept by Picasso for his personal collection in the course of creating his 60, 156 and 347 Series.
Steel facing is a modern technique whereby the soft copper plate into which the image is etched receives a thin coat of steel via electroplating in order to harden its surface. In this way an edition can be printed from beginning to end without degradation of image quality, unlike Rembrandt etchings, for example, whose bare copper plates wore down from the pressure of the press over the course of printing an edition. This resulted in a visible softening of lines, as well as a diminishing of subtle contrasts and tonal depth in examples from late in a print run.
These are superior proofs all before steel facing and before the beveling of the plate. Because they are the very first proofs printed before the edition they bear more contrast and bolder lines than the impressions from the edition (a charcoal quality for prints with sugar-life aquatints and bolder lines for etchings and dry points). Most of the proofs before steel facing are printed with plate tone in the background and have more ink around the beveled edge of plate.
Although steel facing allows for consistent quality throughout an edition and is in this respect an improvement over a bare copper plate, the process necessarily reduces textural delicacy and tonal depth to some degree. Therefore, proofs before steel facing are the ultimate vehicles for displaying the authentic origination of the full expressive capacity of the etching process.
The 347 Series etching proofs before steel facing are printed on Velin de Rives wove paper and are apart from and prior to the regular edition of 50 (1-50) with 17 (I-XVII) proofs. Similarly, The 60 and 156 Series etching proofs before steel facing are printed on Velin de Rives wove paper and are apart from and prior to the regular edition of 50 (1-50) with 15 (I-XV) proofs.
According to Baer, the 347 Series was printed with five proofs before steel facing on Velin de Rives, including one signed copy all in a particular collection as a suite, two copies unsigned in the Marina Picasso collection which were sold individually. There was also one copy, which in error received the Picasso atelier signature. One set of all of these proofs remains in a museum (in all likelihood the edition stamped in error). From the 347 Series, a total of 1735 proofs before steel facing were pulled across the series, seventy-three of which bear the Picasso atelier signature lower right as well as the pencil annotation, “epreuve avant acierage” (proof before steel facing) lower left.
For each edition in the 156 and 60 Series there were three proofs before steel facing. From the 60 and 156 Series’ combined, a total of 648 proofs before steel facing were pulled, of which only 120 bear the Picasso atelier signature and pencil annotation, “epreuve avant acierage” (proof before steel facing). The before steel facing proofs from the 156 Series are the only images pulled and printed within Picasso’s lifetime, except for 4 images, which were fully editioned, and pencil signed within his lifetime.
Master printers Aldo and Piero Crommelynck pulled these proofs. Examples of these rare etchings are in the permanent collections of the Bibliotheque Nationale and Musee Picasso, Paris, the Museo Picasso in Barcelona, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Art Institute of Chicago and other major institutions around the world.
These works are registered with the Picasso Archives in Paris (inventory number annotated verso) and bear the oval stamp of the Marina Picasso Collection verso, his granddaughter being a successor in direct ownership under the aegis of the Picasso estate.
Note: During his seven decades of printmaking, Picasso created five major sets of etchings, a tour de force unrivaled in this medium. This is evidenced by his Saltimbanques Suite of 1904-1905 (15 works), Vollard Suite of 1930-1937 (100 works), 347 Series of 1968 (347 works), Series 60 of 1966-1968 (60 works) and, finally, the 156 Series of 1969-1971 (156 works); a total of 678 individual images for these suites alone. Picasso’s output far surpassed Rembrandt’s oeuvre of some 300 different etchings.