Picasso Prints Offer Solace and Sympathy

Article excerpt

After a war like World War II, victors show scant concern for the trauma that individuals of the defeated nation may suffer. Consider Peter Ludwig, an 18-year-old German who was a soldier for two years, then invalided, and then was a prisoner of war in an American camp. He witnessed his city of Coblenz bombed into rubble and his mother taken dead from the ruins of their home.

When he took up his university studies in art history in 1945, reproductions of one artist's work spoke to him: Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Professor Ludwig, who has since become a major collector of Picasso's prints, recalls, "I was profoundly moved: The image of mankind that Picasso's art captured seemed true to life in an intensity that had never been seen. For everything that was said of Picasso's art -- it is dreadful, gruesome, and terrible -- it seemed to me nothing other than a true reflection of reality. This is ... how I myself felt: dealt an inexplicable fate, ... defenseless and yet rebellious, always ready to survive, to begin again and not give up hope, filled with longing for understanding, for security, and for love."

So Picasso, who's so difficult for many to understand, who fractured and distorted the image on the canvas, became a lodestar and clarifying factor in this young man's life and the subject of his doctoral dissertation. A carefully chosen exhibition of prints from the collection of Ludwig and his wife is being presented at the Robert Hull Fleming Museum of the University of Vermont in Burlington.

As a printmaker, Picasso was more extraordinary technically than he was as a painter. His prodigious output included etching, drypoint, aquatint, sugar-lift aquatint, lithograph, and linocut. He unhesitatingly combined several techniques on the same plate. His printer, Also Crommelynck, who moved his studio from Paris to the village of Mougins, France, to be near the master, wrote: "Working with Picasso, there is no technical failure.... When he was dissatisfied with a plate, he would take it and scrape large areas.... He would use the marks of the scraper in a brilliant way, obtaining beautiful grays. …