Official website of the Foundation Juan March

PICASSO Engravings
From July 15th to November 18th, 2009

The stunning collection of engravings by Picasso known as the Suite Vollard is one of the most important series of its kind in the history of art, comparable in quality and diversity only to those of Rembrandt and Goya. Between September and June of 1936 Picasso produced all of the one hundred engravings in the series, which is named for the art dealer who commissioned the plates, Ambroise Vollard. Picasso produced his engravings innovatively using various techniques and tools such as burins, aquatint (executed in watersoluble ink made with sugar syrup), dry point and etching. For example, he applied the acid with a paintbrush in order to achieve astonishing tonal hues; he also used simple and pure lines, giving the fi nished image a sensual naturalism. The expressive conquests that he realized with the engraving plate are evidence of Picasso’s virtuosity as a master printmaker.

Within the corpus of Suite Vollard, there are four other recurrent themes, apart from the three 1937 portraits of Ambroise Vollard: The Sculptor’s Studio, The Minotaur, Rembrandt and The Battle of Love. Some of these themes are loosely based on a short story written by Honoré de Balzac, entitled Le chef-d’oeuvre inconnu (The Unknown Masterpiece, 1831). Picasso was extremely impacted by this work, which describes a painter’s efforts to capture life itself through feminine beauty. The narrative also foreshadows the origins of modernism, an artistic movement in whose cultivation Picasso played a signifi cant role.

The relationships between art and life, metaphorically represented through the partnership of artist and model, are clearly present in Balzac’s story. However, Picasso, who had been exploring this theme since 1914 in his paintings, drawings and other engravings series does more than merely illustrate it. Instead, he uses this modern myth as a vehicle to weave events from his own life into his art. In these plates, we can identify many aspects of Picasso’s personal life, from the deterioration of his marriage to Olga Koklova to his fi nal and confl ictive relationship with Dora Maar. There are allusions to his illicit love affair with Marie Thérèse Walter (who was still underage at the time) in the representations of the mythical Cretan sculptor, Pygmalion (Picasso), who according to the story carved a piece of such remarkable beauty (Marie) that he fell in love with it and begged the gods to instill it with life and sensuality. Still, in other engravings we can also appreciate some of the iconographic elements which would later be found in Guernica, a great contemporary tragedy that affected Picasso so profoundly that he chose to publically immortalize it in his famous painting.