PICASSO GETS BURNED: 5 strange facts about the Vollard Suite

Pablo Picasso- Personnages Masques et Femme Oiseau- Matthews Gallery blog

Pablo Picasso, Personnages Masques et Femme Oiseau, aquatint and etching

When it came to marketing himself, art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) was a pro. He had a knack for scouting out young artists with rockstar potential and he wasn’t afraid to ask for favors later on. Vollard gave Pablo Picasso his very first gallery show in 1901. By 1930, Picasso was world-famous and Vollard enlisted him for a special commission. In exchange for paintings by Renoir and Cezanne, Picasso would create a series of 100 etchings ending with three portraits of Vollard.

What better way to immortalize yourself? Picasso completed the Vollard Suite over the next seven years, and it would become one of his most famous print suites. The first etchings in the series are in the neoclassical style and show a sculptor in the studio with his beautiful muse. As World War II set in, Picasso turned to darker subject matter culled from Greek mythology. A friendly minotaur appears, but soon grows agitated and violent. By the end of the series the minotaur has lost his vision and wanders aimlessly.

At Matthews Gallery we have the 24th print from the series, titled “Masked Characters and Bird Woman“. In our research on the print, we’ve discovered some pretty weird facts about the Vollard Suite. Five things you (almost surely) didn’t know:

1.  Armed Art Critics Attack! 

Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey tear down Picasso's Vollard Suite- Matthews Gallery Blog

Spanish paramilitary group Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey on the march

Aside from Steve Wynn 0r Olga Dogaru, Picasso’s most violent critics might just be fascist paramilitary group Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey. Picasso finished the Vollard Suite in 1937, but Vollard’s untimely death in 1939 and World War II prevented the prints from going on the market until the 1950s. In the 1970s, the series starred in a short-lived exhibition in Madrid. In protest of Picasso’s political views on the Spanish Civil War the Guerrilleros stormed the show, tore down the prints and burned them with acid. Ouch.

2. Death by Foot

Honore de Balzac's The Unknown Masterpiece inspired Picasso's Vollard Suite- Matthews Gallery Blog

Image from Honore de Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece

Sometimes, art kills. Scholars have tied the Vollard Suite to Honore de Balzac’s short story “The Unknown Masterpiece.” The tragic tale chronicles an artist’s frustration at his inability to capture a model’s supreme beauty on canvas. He manages to paint her foot, but soon gives up and commits suicide in despair. Picasso explores similar themes in his etchings. His lover Marie-Therese Walter appears throughout the series, at first as his adoring model and then as a girlish guide to the blind minotaur. The artist has lost his power to capture his model in his art, and now she nimbly leads him toward death.

3. Sweet Art

Pablo Picasso used a sugar life aquatint technique in his Vollard Suite- Matthews Gallery Blog

Sugar lift aquatint from the Vollard Suite

It seems Picasso had a sweet tooth. The ever innovative artist experimented with new printmaking techniques for the Vollard commission, including dry point and aquatinting. The latter method allows the artist to create varying tones on the print using particles of rosin and an acid. Sugar lift aquatinting is a sweet variation. A layer of sugar syrup is applied to parts of the print and then burned off with acid to create dark fields on a white ground (see the dark patches in the image above).

4. Clairvoyant Pablo

Was Pablo Picasso psychic? - Matthews Gallery Blog

Picasso possessed many artistic talents, but was he also a fortune-teller? One of the Vollard prints shows a model who is a doppelgänger for Picasso’s lover Francoise Gilot, though it prefigures their relationship by over ten years. Third eye or not, the artist noted Gilot’s resemblance to his archetypal female figures when he met her. It made quite the flattering pick-up line.

5. Vollarchitecture

Vollard Suite in Brazil named after Picasso Print Series - Matthews Gallery

The Vollard Suite in Curitiba, Brazil

In more recent news, the world’s first rotating building is named after the Vollard Suite. The futuristic residential complex in Brazil opened in 2001 with an exhibition of Picasso’s prints. Its design resembles a Greek pillar, a reference to Picasso’s neoclassical style in the suite (check out the bird lady’s perch in our print). The skyscraper’s $400,000 apartments turn 360 degrees every hour. It might sound dizzying, but something tells us the extravagant artist would approve.

Learn more about our Vollard print here, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more news from Matthews Gallery!

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10 Women Who Changed Art History Forever, Pt. 1

Self portrait, Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, Matthews Gallery blog
Self portrait, Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

Click here to read the second part of this blog post.

Let’s be honest, the art establishment has always been a boy’s club, and women are most often honored in art history for overcoming gender-related cultural and societal obstacles. It’s easy to look past the artistic innovations of female artists when we’re sorting their work into a different category from that of their male contemporaries, or focusing solely on the glass ceilings they broke.

Of course, ignoring the gargantuan efforts of female creatives to gain respect and recognition in a male dominated world is a mistake as well, as is looking at innovation as a competition between artists of different genders.

Art history is an elaborate web of influence, and analyzing any artist’s place in it is a balancing act. One thing’s for sure: many women have formed vital links in the chain. Here’s why 5 female artists deserve recognition.

Sphinx of Hatshepsut, Matthews Gallery blog
Sphinx of Hatshepsut

1. Queen Hatshepsut (1508-1458 BC)

The fifth pharaoh of Ancient Egypt’s 18th dynasty probably wasn’t an artist herself, but as one of the most successful Egyptian rulers ever, she had a huge influence on art history. In her 22-year reign Hatshepsut brought great wealth to the empire through new trade networks and expeditions, and she was very good at promoting her accomplishments through art. Her many building projects were the envy of her successors, and statuary from her reign abounds.

Statues representing Hatshepsut sometimes sport the ceremonial attire of a pharaoh (including a traditional false beard), but she’s most often depicted in the feminine clothing that she probably wore at court. As a skilled warrior, she took the lioness deity Sekhmet as a symbol of the throne.

After Hatshepsut’s death many statues of the ruler were defaced, and later pharaohs tried to take credit for her building projects, but her influence on subsequent Egyptian styles is undeniable. Work from her reign is in nearly every major museum collection, and has helped shape modern interpretations of Ancient Egyptian art.

Self portrait, Artemisia Gentileschi, Matthews Gallery blog
Self portrait, Artemisia Gentileschi

2. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656)

For years Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi was mostly known for the events surrounding her rape as a teenager. She was assaulted by her private painting tutor Tassi, who said he would marry her but later reneged on the promise. Gentileschi’s father successfully sued Tassi for taking his daughter’s virginity in a publicly humiliating trial during which Gentileschi was tortured with thumbscrews and given a gynecological examination.

Soon after the court case Gentileschi married another painter and moved from Rome to Florence. It was the beginning of a stellar career, with coveted commissions from the Medici family and a spot as the first female in the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno.

Simplistic interpretations that relate Gentileschi’s work to her rape have dominated the attention of scholars, but the artist’s bold painting style and compositions make her one of the most innovative Baroque painters after Caravaggio. She took new angles on Bible stories to explore the complex emotional experiences of her subjects, and would often place a central figure in the extreme foreground to heighten the drama of her scenes and pull her viewers into the middle of the action.

Self portrait, Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, Matthews Gallery
Self portrait, Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

3. Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun (1755-1842)

The French Neoclassical and Rococo painter was born in Paris and opened her own portrait studio in her early teens, scoring commissions from high profile nobles and rubbing elbows with masters of the day. When she lost her studio for lack of a license, she tricked the Academie de Saint Luc into showing her work and eventually gained official membership.

Vigee Le Brun is best known for her work as the portraitist of Marie Antoinette, who commissioned more than two dozen works from the artist. Her vivid, rosy depictions of the doomed queen in the Rococo style made Louise the most famous female painter of the 18th century. She’d ceded the title of royal court painter by the time of the French Revolution, but she still fled France during the conflict and took portrait commissions from nobles across Europe. However, the canvas that landed her on this list is a painting of the artist herself.

The self portrait, painted in 1787, was an image of Vigee Le Brun sporting a full, toothy grin. It was such a divergence from painting conventions thus far that it caused an uproar in the art world. “An affectation which artists, art-lovers and persons of taste have been united in condemning, and which finds no precedent among the Ancients, is that in smiling,” spewed one gossip columnist. “[Vigee Le Brun] shows her teeth.” The painting briefly made Louise’s smile as notorious as the Mona Lisa’s, and shattered a tradition that stretched back to the Greeks.

Self portrait, Mary Cassatt, Matthews Gallery blog
Self portrait, Mary Cassatt

4. Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

Mary Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where most of the female students saw art not as a profession but as a privilege of high society. She left the Academy for Paris in 1866, frustrated with her teachers’ attitudes toward female artists and determined to study the masters on her own.

In France, Cassatt enlisted various private tutors and copied works in the Louvre to develop her skill. Impressionism was just beginning to rock the foundations of the Parisian art world, but it didn’t catch Cassatt’s fancy until after an unsuccessful stint in Chicago and a return to Paris in 1871. That’s when she met Edgar Degas, who introduced her to Impressionists and offered to show her work in one of their exhibitions.

Cassatt would become a hugely influential figure in the fledgling movement, and would later be named one of “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism by art critic Gustave Geffroy.

Portrait of Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Matthews Gallery blog
Portrait of Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

“I always wanted to be historical from almost a baby on, I felt that way about it,” Gertrude Stein once declared. If anyone called into doubt the American modernist writer’s genius, Stein was the first to speak up about it.

Stein’s influence on the history of visual art is partly tied to her radical writing style, which helped define modernism and was crafted in close dialogue with the visual arts. Her significance also rests in her expansive art collection, which populated the walls of her Parisian home where influential modernists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald often congregated.

As the often stern den mother of the “Lost Generation” carefully curated her collection and cultivated close friendships with the artists she liked, she was shaping a radical revolution that would forever change the history of art.

Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter for more insight on the women who changed art history forever, and click here to read the second part of this blog post.