Selections from Pablo Picasso’s Vollard Suite—the artist’s most significant cycle of etchings and a hallmark of twentieth century modernist printmaking —will be on view to celebrate the recent gift of the entire suite by Peter and Paula Lunder. Colby’s Vollard Suite is one of fifty deluxe sets that was printed on extra-large Montval paper in 1939 and is believed to be one of only eight deluxe sets that Picasso signed in full.
The Vollard Suite comprises 100 etchings made at a critical point in Picasso’s career between 1930 and 1937. Exploring themes of mythology, identity, creativity and sexuality, the Vollard Suite is etched in a neoclassical style that Picasso adapted from his studies of classical sculpture and traces his artistic development throughout the 1930s. In the series, Picasso eroticizes the relationship between the artist, model, and art, casting himself in the role of the sculptor pictured throughout. Set primarily in the artist’s studio, Picasso mixes images of artistic repose and reflection with sexual fantasy and conquest. The set shifts from works of serene contemplation of beauty drawn with a graceful, simple line to images of aggression, animalistic desire, and torment that are aggressively etched and heavily work. An unresolved drama between tranquility and agony, power and impotence, classical harmony and the irrational forces of the human psyche, plays itself out in the series.
A longtime patron and promoter of Picasso’s, Ambroise Vollard, a leading avant-garde art dealer and publisher in Paris, commissioned the work that led to the Vollard Suite. Although the exact arrangements surrounding the commission are not known, Picasso began the earliest work from the suite in 1930 and produced the majority of the prints in 1933-34. After completing 97 etchings, he included three portraits of Vollard to round the set up to 100 and handed over the plates to the dealer-publisher in 1937. Vollard hired Richard Lacouière to print them in 1939, but the unexpected death of Vollard that year and the outbreak of World War II prevented the sets from being published. In the late 1940s, the art dealer Henri Petiet purchased all of the etchings from Vollard’s brother. Colby’s deluxe set comes directly from the Petiet estate and has never before been publicly exhibited.