Picasso: The Vollard Suite

September 9, 2005 - January 1, 2006
September 2, 2005 - January 15, 2006

The staff of the Modern is pleased to announce the exhibition of selected works from Pablo Picasso's Vollard Suite, part of the Museum's permanent collection. These works were last exhibited in 1985. Director Marla Price remarks, "The Vollard Suite is one of the great treasures of our collection. We are delighted to put it on view in our new building." Curator Andrea Karnes adds, "The Vollard Suite is our first highlighted exhibition of works on paper in the new building. It not only represents an important time in Picasso's oeuvre, when he explored neoclassicism, but it also demonstrates the incredible fluidity of his imagery and his ongoing interest in Cubism. The acquisition of these prints in 1966 — nearly forty years ago — was a precursor to one of the Museum's most important purchases of the twentieth century, that of Picasso’s Femme Couchée Lisant, 1960, which was acquired in 1967."

These famous plates — etchings, dry points, and combined techniques — created by Picasso between 1930 and 1937, represent one of the highlights of the artist's career. Ambroise Vollard, the publisher of the Suite, was one of the twentieth century's greatest art dealers and publishers. Prior to World War I, his Paris gallery was the central hub for artists and collectors, who were drawn there by his extraordinary inventory of paintings, including works by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In 1895 he began to commission prints from painters and sculptors, including Pierre Bonnard, Edvard Munch, Auguste Rodin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Edouard Vuillard. By 1939 Vollard had published more than twenty superb books — ancient classics, works by French authors of the nineteenth century, and modern literature, each one illustrated by a leading artist. Vollard spared neither time nor expense and experimented constantly with text, type, and illustrative techniques.

Picasso and Vollard shared a close working relationship until 1910, when the dealer found the painter's Cubist style difficult to accept. But for the preceding decade, Vollard served as Picasso's primary dealer and, despite his misgivings about Cubism, the two continued to collaborate on publishing projects after 1910. In fact, ranking among Vollard's chief achievements as a publisher are Picasso's editions, including the one-hundred-plate Vollard Suite.

The Suite includes twenty-seven separate sheets dealing with various themes, and seventy-three sheets on five themes: Battle of Love, The Sculptor’s Studio, Rembrandt, the Minotaur and the Blind Minotaur, and portraits of Vollard. When these works are exhibited as a group, the viewer immediately senses the unity of tone despite the variety of subjects. This stems from the Suite's predominance of the linear, neoclassic style that appeared in Picasso's art following trips to Rome, Florence, Naples, and Pompeii, where he was exposed to ancient art.

The sheets depicting the Sculptor's Studio reflect Picasso's preoccupation with sculpture that began in 1932 when he bought Château Boisgeloup in France. Like the pages of a diary, these works record a wide range of the artist's moods. A concentrated sculptor and his model (the artist's current mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter) appear in many of the works. These sheets merge readily into the Battle of Love: expressive, dynamic, and richly conceived. The Minotaur, Picasso’s ideal union of man and animal, is pictured variously as tender seducer, leering lecher, and tragic, blinded creature.

Picasso's technical inventiveness is evident on every sheet. He rose to the remarkable challenge of Rembrandt's etching technique while exploring that subject, attaining the utmost delicacy of dry point in tandem with the velvet-black etched areas. In 1936 he mastered the sugar process, or "lift-ground" method of aquatint and brilliantly utilized its rich effects in the nocturnal scenes of masked figures and sleeping women. The portraits of Vollard, the last three sheets added to the Suite, reflect both the painterly effects of soft-ground etching and the linear simplicity of dry point in these supreme tributes to an extraordinary partnership.