Saturday, November 3, 2012
Picasso Prints: The Vollard Suite
This exhibition, at the British Museum 3 May – 2 September 2012, of Pablo Picasso’s most celebrated series of etchings, The Vollard Suite, was the first time a complete set has been shown in a British public institution. The Vollard Suite comprises 100 etchings produced by Picasso between 1930 and 1937, at a critical juncture in Picasso’s career. This exhibition celebrates the recent acquisition of these etchings, thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Hamish Parker. It is the only complete Vollard Suite held by a public museum in the UK.
Faun Uncovering a Sleeping Woman, from The Vollard Suite by Picasso (plate 27)
Pablo Picasso, Two Catalan Drinkers (29 November 1934), plate 12 of The Vollard Suite (VS 12), etching, 23.7 x 29.7 cm. ©Succession Picasso/DACS 2011.
The prints were made when Picasso was involved in a passionate affair with his muse and model, Marie-Thérèse Walter, whose classical features are a recurrent presence in the series. They offer an ongoing process of change and metamorphosis that eludes any final resolution. Picasso gave no order to the plates nor did he assign any titles to them. Picasso kept the plates open-ended to allow connections to be freely made among them, yet certain thematic groupings can also be identified.
Nude male stabbing neck of minotaur in an arena watched by spectators; plate 89 of the Vollard Suite, 29 May 1933
Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Young sculptor at work, plate 46 of the Vollard Suite. Etching, 23 March 1933.
The predominant theme of the Vollard Suite is the Sculptor’s Studio (46 etchings), which deals with Picasso’s engagement with classical sculpture. At this point he was making sculpture at his new home and studio, the Château de Boisgeloup outside Paris. The etchings of his young model, Marie-Thérèse, represent a dialogue alternating between the artist and his creation and between the artist and his model. Various scenarios are played out between the sculptor, the model and the created work. Among them is the classical myth of Pygmalion in which the sculptor becomes so enamoured of his creation that it comes to life at the artist’s touch. Classical linearity and repose within the studio also alternate with darker, violent forces. The latter are represented by scenes of brutal passion and by the Minotaur (15 etchings), the half-man, half-animal of classical myth, which became central to Picasso’s personal mythology. Picasso in a spirit of competitiveness tips his cap to his great predecessors, Rembrandt and Goya. The series concludes with three portraits of Vollard himself, made in 1937.
For the first time the etchings were displayed alongside examples of the type of classical sculpture and objects that Picasso was inspired by, something which the British Museum is in a unique position to do. As well as this, Rembrandt etchings, Goya prints and Ingres drawings from the Prints and Drawings collection were displayed as their influence can be seen in some of Picasso’s works.
The Vollard Suite takes its name from Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), the greatest avant-garde Paris art dealer and print publisher of his day, who gave Picasso his first Paris exhibition in 1901. In exchange for some pictures, Picasso produced for Vollard a group of 100 etchings between 1930 and 1937. The mammoth task of printing some 310 sets, plus three further sets on vellum, was completed by the Paris printer Roger Lacourière in 1939. Vollard’s unexpected death in a car accident that year, followed by the outbreak of the Second World War, delayed the distribution of the Vollard Suite until the 1950s by the dealer Henri Petiet who had purchased most of the prints from the Vollard estate. The set acquired by the British Museum comes directly from the heirs of Henri Petiet and so has an impeccable provenance, having never been shown in public before, and is in pristine condition.
An accompanying catalogue was published by British Museum Press. Written by Stephen Coppel, with a foreword by Neil MacGregor, Picasso Prints: The Vollard Suite presents the etchings together with sculptural objects from the British Museum’s unique collection. This title reveals the key themes of the Vollard Suite- the classical world, its sculpture and myths- as topics which preoccupied Picasso and influenced much of his work. Beautifully illustrated with stunningly reproduced new photography.