British Museum Acquires Picasso’s Vollard Suite

The British Museum announces the major acquisition of a complete set of Picasso’s Vollard Suite, which will go on display at the Museum in the summer of 2012. The suite comprises 100 etchings produced by Picasso between 1930 and 1937 and is the most important cycle of etchings produced by arguably the 20th century’s most important artist. This will be the only complete Vollard Suite held by a public museum in the UK and only a handful of museums in the world are fortunate to hold a set. It is believed that this will be the first time a complete Vollard Suite has been shown in Britain in the past 50 years.

This landmark acquisition for the British Museum is made possible through the extraordinary generosity of the Hamish Parker Charitable Trust in memory of the donor’s father, Major Horace Parker. This outstanding acquisition will be exhibited from 3 May to 2 September 2012 in Room 90. The etchings show Picasso’s developing interest in sculptural forms in the 1930s and to complement this, the British Museum will for the first time display the works alongside examples of the type of classical sculpture that Picasso was inspired by, something which the British Museum is in a unique position to do. As well as this, Rembrandt etchings and Goya prints from the Prints and Drawings collection will also be displayed as their influence can be seen in some of Picasso’s works.

The predominant theme of the Vollard Suite is the Sculptor’s Studio (46 etchings), which deals with Picasso’s engagement with classical sculpture. The etchings reveal Picasso’s neoclassicism of this period. At this point he was making sculpture at his new home and studio, the château Boisgeloup outside Paris. His model was his young lover Marie-Thérèse Walter who features in many of the etchings. They represent a dialogue alternating between the artist and his creation and between the artist and his model. Classical linearity and repose within the studio also alternate with darker, violent forces. The latter are represented by scenes of violation and by the Minotaur (15 etchings), the half-man, half-animal of classical myth which became central to Picasso’s personal mythology. Picasso also tilts his cap to Rembrandt in a group of 4 etchings. The series concludes with three portraits of Vollard himself made in 1937.

The Vollard Suite takes its name from Ambroise Vollard (1866–1939), the greatest avant-garde Paris art dealer and print publisher of his day, who gave Picasso his first Paris exhibition in 1901. In exchange for some pictures, Vollard commissioned Picasso to produce a group of 100 etchings between 1930 and 1937. The mammoth task of printing some 310 sets was completed by the Paris printer Roger Lacourière in 1939 but Vollard died before they could be distributed. His death in a car accident that year, followed by the outbreak of the Second World War, delayed the release of the Vollard Suite by the dealer Henri Petiet who purchased most of the prints from the Vollard estate. The set acquired by the British Museum comes directly from the heirs of Henri Petiet and so has an impeccable provenance, having never been shown in public before, and is in pristine condition. –

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