'This plate, for me, is one of the great etchings of the 20th century.'

Faun Revealing a Sleeping Woman, 1933, by Pablo Picasso (1881 –1973), 12½ in by 16½ in, ‘The Vollard Suite’ (edition 230 full sets)

Norman Ackroyd says:
Picasso was 50 in 1931, when he embarked on an intense six years of etching production. This resulted in the famous “Vollard Suite” as well as the 36 etchings of animals for Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle. With the help of his brilliant technician, Roger Lacourière, he redefined the artform. He broke rules and took pure etching into new freedoms and new directions. This plate, for me, is one of the great etchings of the 20th century. It is electric with Picasso’s energy, yet also imbued with a wonderful tenderness.

Norman Ackroyd RA is an artist and printmaker. He has overseen the hanging of the print room at this
year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (until August 16)

John McEwen comments:
Picasso’s acute sense of mortality made him terrified of dying. His 50th birthday in 1931 was a particularly doom-laden milestone and goaded him to renewed invention, enforced, as always, by a new lover — in this case, the schoolgirl Marie-Thérèse Walter. Initial illegality made the affair all the more energising.

In addition to painting and sculpting, he undertook a major print-making assignment, a suite of 100 etchings commissioned by his first Paris dealer, Ambroise Vollard. Vollard demanded a contribution towards the cost and received a Cézanne and a Renoir. Most of the etchings were made in spring 1933, but it took until 1937 to finish the project, and two further years for the master printmaker Roger Lacourière to complete printing the edition.

Picasso’s love of improvisation was in tune with his time, not least the great American innovation of jazz. Art comes from art. Once he had created his own visual language, he took it in every challenging direction he could, as Norman Ackroyd says, continuing to steal from the past as freely
as from his contemporaries.

Improvisation is the essence of ‘The Vollard Suite’, which is a series of spontaneous images. Each etching is inscribed with the year, month and day, the whole amounting to a visual journal of Picasso’s innermost thoughts in the 1930s. Half the etchings are on the theme of the sculptor’s studio and the early ones, such as this Rembrandt-indebted moonlit fantasy of a faun (symbolic of lust) and a naked woman, revel in eroticism.

This article was originally published in Country Life, July 15 2015

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