Picasso: Past, Present and Future!

Pablo Picasso and sister Lola- Matthews Gallery blogPicasso and his sister Lola. He was about 8 years old
in this picture,
and already had some swagger.

In the art world, it’s a holiday. Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain on October 25, 1881. In the 133 years since, the artist has irrevocably changed the way we look at art— and the world around it.

We’re frequently struck by the way Picasso would capture an artist’s attention and radically alter his or her course. Just look at this 1955 lithograph by Italian futurist Gino Severini, which is often mistaken for a Picasso by gallery visitors. French artist Jean-Pierre Jouffroy shifted from figurative artwork to pure abstraction after studying Picasso and his contemporaries, and Robert Motherwell‘s decision to become an artist hinged on a European tour of modern masterworks.

On this momentous day, we’re looking back at every Picasso that has passed through our gallery. Each one has a fascinating story… Pablo Picasso- Les Saltimbanque- Matthews Gallery blog Les Saltimbanques is the earliest work by Picasso we’ve ever exhibited. It’s a drypoint from 1905, when the artist was about 24. It was commissioned by legendary art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who gave Picasso his first gallery show in 1901. The frolicking figures are characters from an opera-comique about a circus troupe. An early appearance by the harlequin (far right) is notable, as the archetype would become one of Picasso’s most-used personal symbols.

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

Fast forward to 1930. With the help of Vollard, Picasso had built his name into the first true global artistic brand. In yet another stroke of marketing genius, Vollard commissioned Picasso to create a series of 100 etchings—including several portraits of the dealer himself. The star of the Vollard Suite is the minotaur (second from left), another one of Picasso’s personal symbols. At the beginning of the series the minotaur is a virile beast, but by the end he is blind and weak, relying on a beautiful young muse to guide him. Completed in 1937, it’s the middle-aged Picasso’s meditation on his waning virility.

Pablo Picasso- Alex Maguy Gallery- Matthews Gallery blog

A youthful face peers from this offset lithograph Picasso designed for the Alex Maguy gallery in 1962. The exhibition was a retrospective of his artwork, but those captivating, wonder-filled eyes hardly hint at the darker themes the octogenarian turned to in his later years.

Pablo Picasso- 156 Suite- Matthews Gallery blog Picasso created the 156 Suite in 1971, not long before his death. Some consider the etchings to be his most personal series, a diary of a man struggling with impotence and pushing helplessly against the inevitable.

In contrast to our print from the Vollard Suite, women take the dominant role in these works. Models turn on artists, witch doctors stab at their patients and—in the case of this print—prostitutes tangle at a brothel while a man looks on, paralyzed. The gentleman is Degas, who appears in several prints in the series and with whom Picasso felt solidarity in his struggles.

Pablo Picasso 1971- Matthews Gallery blog Check out our Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest profiles today for more insight on Picasso, and learn more about all of the artwork in this post on our homepage.

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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!