Peintre devant son Tableau, 1927This etching, Peintre devant son Tableau (Painter in front of his easel) is from 1927 and one of Picasso's earliest etchings.  He created only 18 prints of that medium in 1927 compared to later years when he would create hundreds of etchings in a year.

In early 1927 Picasso meets
Marie-Thérèse and has a secret relationship with her while being with Olga who he had married in 1918.  Could the young artist in this image be Picasso painting a portrait of his new secret love?  The first documented painting of Marie-Thérèse is not until 1932.

This etching is plate 11 of 13 used to illustrate the book "
Le chef d'oeuvre inconnu" by d'honore' de Balzac (1799-1799)  as published by Ambroise Vollard in 1931.  The theme for all of the 13 etchings was to be the artist and model.  It is clear that this etching is a precursor to the classical Vollard Suite which was created over the next 10 years.
Balzac book cover
The etching is from the collection of Picasso's grand daughter, Marina Picasso (born in 1951).  It is one of the few and rare trial proofs before the etching plate was steel faced and the full edition of 99 was then printed.  There was also a smaller margin book edition of 340 copies.

In November of 1948 Picasso was asked to create a lithograph of Balzac by his lithographer, Fernand Mourlot.  By the next day Picasso had created not one, but rather eight lithographs and three larger compositions in response to Mourlot's request.
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.

Although steel facing allows for consistent quality throughout an edition and is thus 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 both the full expressive capacity of the etching process and in so doing that of the artist's hand.