This article appears in one of the Associazione Liberi Incisori (ALI) yearbooks, signed by Marzio Dall’Acqua and Marco Fiori, we reproduce it here enirely.
“[Rodolfo] Margheri helped me find old lithographic presses and two lithographers who had worked at the Military Geographic Institute. Enrico Vallecchi also found a large room in Viale Milton that smelled of old and new, and there, in 1959, the Bisonte was born. It was I who chose this name because it reminded me of the first stone graffiti of the Altamira caves. Aristo Ciruzzi designed the logo that still exists and in which I recognize myself. Margheri became technical director of the printing studio which, after a short period, was moved to via RIcasoli. ”
Thus Maria Luigia Guaita (Pisa 1912 – Florence 2007) tells the beginning of her adventure in the world of printmaking, which began in a certain sense in exile, because she was a woman of culture, who had had a publishing house experience from 1944 to 1948, in Florence just freed from the by nazist/fascist grip then she found herself having to take refuge in Scotland, in Edinburgh, where she witnessed an artist working with lithography.
She had been forced into voluntary exile by the violent reactions triggered by the fact that one of her articles in the magazine “Il Mondo”, directed by Mario Pannunzio, in which she had defended a couple married only in civil form from the attacks of the bishop of Prato, Monsignor Fiordelli, had so strongly stirred consciences that a lawsuit was brought against the bishop.
Civil and political passion is also at the origin of Pablo Picasso’s work, of which we reconstruct in this ALI yearbook, probably for the first time, in a complete way the story of the lithograph “Portrait of a woman”, also indicated with the titles of Spanish Girl, La Femme Espagnole, Femme d’Espagne, Spanish woman, L’Espagnole and perhaps others.
As Laura Gensini tells in “Il Segno Impresso”, “Il Bisonte, in addition to offering an anthology of works that have illustrated a conspicuous part of the Italian and international graphic art scene, has marked its history with many initiatives aimed at social issues and has used his prints to defend or promote some ideas”. One of the first manifestations of this trend was the invitation to Picasso in 1960 to perform a lithograph on the occasion of the European Conference for the amnesty of Spanish political convicts, an undoubted act of opposition to the Franco regime and of solidarity and awareness. Picasso supplied the drawing on transfer paper, but the printing was carried out in Florence in the workshops of the Stamperia Il Bisonte. It was then Maria Luigia Guaita who personally brought the print run to France to allow Picasso to sign it. She was carrying 141 specimens, of which one hundred were to be used to finance the fund to assist political prisoners in Spain and the rest for the artist, but Picasso generously allocated them to the cause. This is the reason for the unusual numbering, marked with Arabic numerals, which he signed in pencil and is the only lithograph by Picasso done in Italy.
The sheet measures 690 x 520 mm. The bon à tirer was donated to the collection of the Department of Prints and Drawings of the Uffizi (G.D.S.U. n. 113499). the copy donated to Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti is now part of the prints of the Graphic Museum of Palazzo Lanfranchi in Pisa. Obviously the edition immediately sold out in 1961. After this edition, in the same year, Il Bisonte transferred the litho, with the system of the transfer paper, on a new zinc matrix together with Picasso’s signature and on the date of execution of the work 4.10.1960 and provided a second edition of the image (with signature and date on the matrix) of 600 copies, numbered in various groups: 400 in Arabic numerals from 1/400 to 400/400, two hundred printed on larger and heavier CM Fabriano paper numbered in two groups of one hundred, one with Roman numerals from I / C to C / C and one hundred copies with the initials EA, naturally with the authorization of Picasso. At the end of this edition, the matrix was rendered unusable and is still kept in the archives of the current Foundation.
Il Bisonte, in order not to damage the high prices of the edition signed in pencil by the artist, marketed these second prints as “photoliths”. In reality we are faced with lithographs similar to the sheets of the first edition, sometimes treated as a photolith and others confused with the sheets of the first matrix to the point of reaching absolutely enviable prices in international auctions. An image of the second edition (with signature and date on the matrix), described with the technical characteristics of the one signed in pencil, is also inserted in repertoires that should be rigorous such as Fernand Mourlot’s Picasso Lithographe, A. Sauret Edition du Livre, Paris, 1970 (no. 357); G. Bloch, Picasso, Catalog de l’Oeuvre Gravé and Lithographiée 1904/1967, Edition Kofrnfeld, Bern, 1984, volume I p. 219, n. 1009. A copy of the second edition is documented in the catalog of the Graphikmuseum P. Picasso Munster collection, The Huizinga collection (769). The name of “photolithography” adopted by Bisonte for the second edition is confirmed by the fact that the sculptor Venturino Venturi (Loro Ciuffenna 1918 – Terranuova Bracciolini 2002) in 1961 used a test work to print one of his lithographs in a single, untitled , dedicating it “to Mr. Vallecchi, Venturino”, presented as such in the general catalogs of Il Bisonte, including the last one from 2009, in “Il segno Impresso“, p. 154, sheet and imprint mm. 756 x 531.
Finally, let’s say something about the person portrayed, the charming Spanish girl wrapped in a handkerchief, tied up as shepherds do who must defend themselves from winds and bad weather, as well as from the scorching sun, undoubtedly young but with essential features austere and intense for archaic dignity.
It is the mother of Eugenio Arias Herranz, a Spanish barber, born on November 15, 1909 in Buitrago del Lozoya, anti-fascist and exile, known as “Picasso’s barber”, who died in Vallauris (France) on April 28, 2008 at the age of 98. The mother was called Nicolosa Herranz and was, as appears in the Picasso image, a sheep shepherd, born in Robledillo de la Jara. Obviously, the youthful image can only be an essential shot from a photographic image, at the same time an ideal figure of a proud and popular woman and a tribute to the affections of a friend, with whom she shared stories and memories.
Picasso had met Arias, a communist exile, in Villauris, France, in 1948, when he moved to the villa “La Galoise”, near the hairdressing salon of the one who became his friend for 26 years, also sharing his private life: the walks, bullfights, political conversations, memories of Spain, card games, everyday life, to the point that the barber became a point of reference for those who wanted to meet the artist.
In 1982 Arias donated his collection to the Autonomous Community of Madrid, the core of which is made up of 71 works including paintings, porcelain, books and other artistic objects made by Picasso from 1948 to 1972 and found a location in Butriago del Lozoya, at seventy kilometers from Madrid, in the birthplace of Arias, where it forms the Picasso Museum – Colleciòn Arias. As Arias left said: “Picasso was always attentive and generous with the problems of his compatriots and tried to help the movements for peace and all those who pursued it”. And this brings us back to Maria Luigia Guaita and her artistic and ideal battles, enclosed in a simple sheet, involved in multiple events and which refers to ancient stories.
From an interview with the printer Nicola Manfredi of Reggio Emilia
The lithographic transfer paper (papier collé) is a special paper with a glossy and a matte surface. The artist draws on the glossy surface with pencils or lithographic inks. After several pressure passages the paper is transferred to the stone and, on this, it wears out. The resulting matrix is identical, in all respects, to a matrix drawn directly by the artist and the resulting prints are original lithographs. This method, for its particular convenience, was often used by artists who resided far from the place of printing and particularly appreciated because it allows to obtain the printing of the subject oriented in an identical way to the drawing.
In the case of Picasso’s lithography al Bisonte, this procedure was most likely followed: from the first matrix an image was printed on new transfer paper. This new transfer paper, with the imprinted image, was signed and dated by Picasso and then transferred to a new plate, thus creating a second matrix.