Pablo Picasso’s Vollard Suite

The Vollard Suite, the most significant cycle of prints made by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), was commissioned by Ambroise Vollard, a leading art dealer in Paris. Begun in 1930 and completed in 1937, this series of one hundred etchings explores the artist’s studio as a creative space and provides an intimate look into the mind of Picasso. Printed in 1939, Colby’s Vollard Suite is believed to be one of only a few deluxe sets fully signed by the artist.

Ambroise Vollard (1866–1939) was one of Picasso’s earliest champions. The first dealer to exhibit the artist’s work, Vollard bought his first Picasso painting in 1906 and eventually assembled a renowned collection of the artist’s works. During the 1920s he began publishing Picasso’s prints. The formal details of the Vollard Suite commission are not fully known, however. Its earliest etching dates from September 1930, but most of its works were made in 1933 and 1934. It seems the series developed organically: Picasso and Vollard made a selection from a larger group of etchings the artist had made for possible inclusion in the suite. Richard Lacouiènre was hired to print the etchings in 1939, but the unexpected death of Vollard that year and the outbreak of World War II prevented the sets from being published.

Exemplifying the neoclassical style that emerged from his study of Classical sculpture, the series shows Picasso employing an array of references from mythology and the history of art to examine the mysteries of the artist’s creative powers. Set primarily in the artist’s studio, Picasso eroticizes the relationship between the artist, model, and art in the series, casting himself in the role of the sculptor pictured throughout. The suite 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 worked. 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.

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Biography of Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) was one of the most significant and prolific artists of the 20th century. In a career that spanned eight decades, Picasso made revolutionary contributions to the fields of painting, sculpture, and printmaking in a range of styles from Cubism, Expressionism, and surrealism, to name but a few.

Born in Malaga, Spain, Oct. 25, 1881, Picasso received his first artistic training from his father. In 1897 the budding artist attended art school in Madrid before moving to Barcelona for further education in 1899. Splitting time between Spain and France at the turn of the century, Picasso’s early work emerged from a neo-impressionist and symbolist mode. In what is now considered his “Blue Period,” Picasso focused his attention on representations of loneliness, poverty, and despair in his art.

In 1905 Picasso settled in Paris, where he underwent his first stylistic transformation. Picasso’s “Rose Period” is typified by a brighter, more vibrant palette. His paintings from this time are noted for their incorporation of circus performers, acrobats, harlequins, and clowns. Picasso also established significant relationships with American art collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein, Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard, and the gallery owner, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. This group provided Picasso with on-going support—financial and creative—which helped to cement his early reputation as an avant-garde artist.

By the close of the first decade of the 20th century, Picasso began to embrace a primitivist style that assimilated influences from pre-Roman Iberian sculpture and African and Oceanic art. The move from realism and expressionism to primitivism provided Picasso with a creative pathway that assisted in his development of Cubism with Georges Braque. In Cubism Picasso fractured three-dimensional forms on a two-dimensional picture plane using monochrome and neutral colors. The object under scrutiny by the artist was broken apart and reassembled as if seen from various points of view. Picasso’s artistic output leading up to the outbreak of World War I resulted in a radical refashioning of the boundaries between realism and abstraction.

Following World War I, Picasso embraced Neoclassicism. He had reacquainted himself with classical sculpture during a trip to Rome in 1917. Elements of the classical world—its forms and mythology—would appear in his art throughout the 1920s and the 1930s. Picasso did not merely copy classical art. Rather he filtered his classicism through the lens of the contemporary art movement known as surrealism. What emerges between the world wars are a series of paintings, sculptures, and prints that blend order and disorder, the rational and the irrational, control and chaos, love and lust, intellect and emotion, culminating with his two great masterpieces of the period: the print series The Vollard Suite (1930-37) and the anti-war painting Guernica (1937).

Picasso’s reputation and global fame skyrocketed throughout the 1940s–60s. Esteemed as a living master, he was the source of hundreds of exhibitions that cemented his legacy as arguably the most important visual artist of the 20th century. Nevertheless, Picasso continued to work on a daily basis, diving into ceramics and continuing his experimentations in painting and printmaking. Picasso passed away April 8, 1973, in Mougins, France.

PLEASE NOTE: Not all works in the Colby Museum collection are on view at any given time. If you have a question about works on view, please call 207-859-5600 prior to visiting. 

Banner Image: Pablo Picasso, Minotaure aveugle guidé par une filette dans la nuit (Blind Minotaur Led by a Little Girl in the Night), 1934. Etching, 15 3/16 x 19 13/16 in. (38.7 x 50.4 cm). Colby College Museum of Art. The Lunder Collection, 006.2016. Photo by Gary Green. © 2016 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York