Picasso’s Vollard Suite at The British Museum thanks to £1m donor
When in 2010 financier Hamish Parker saw one of Pablo Picasso’s etchings at the British Museum, London, he couldn’t help but notice the label underneath expressing the museum’s aspiration to hold the whole series one day. Today, thanks to his £1million donation, the museum recently attained the complete set of the Vollard Suite, composed of 100 etchings engraved between 1930 and 1937.
The Vollard Suite is remarkable because it’s the most important series of prints Picasso made and this is its first public display. You can find them Room 90.
The Suite is named after a famous Parisian avant-garde art dealer and print publisher Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939). When Picasso submitted 97 images to the commissioner, Vollard suggested that 100 would be a better number; on the same day, the artist made three brilliant portraits of the dealer.
The Suite is very diverse in stylistic, technical and thematic terms but classical sculptures of Picasso’s young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter are the leitmotifs of the series. 46 prints show a classicised “Sculptor’s Studio”, analysing the nature of artistic creation and the relation between a sculptor, represented as a mature, Hercules-esque bearded man, and a female model bearing Marie- Thérèse’s facial features. This half of the Suite is sophisticated and contemplative, but the series also has a darker side.
The other half is overwhelmed with aggressive images of rape and a figure of the Minotaur, which is an incarnation of uncontrolled lusts and an evocation of the European totalitarian regimes of 1930s. In accordance to that, the Suite anticipated the creation of the famous Guernica in 1937. In the final years’ moving images form the series, Picasso’s political anxieties meet with his personal life in a depiction of a defeated, blinded, pathetic Minotaur led by an innocent child with Marie-Thérèse’s classical Greek profile. Two years after the series was complete, the sudden death of Vollard and the outbreak of World War II disrupted the distribution of 310 sets of the Suite.
Artefacts form the British Museum’s vast collection embody Picasso’s inspirations. The etchings are accompanied by classical sculptures and works by Goya, Rembrandt and Ingres. Although the classical forms are commonly associated with Hellenic serenity, Picasso used these timeless formulas to depict robust passions. The Vollard Suite is varied, complex, intense and captivating. Picasso’s drawing genius, his gift to simplify and summarise forms with single, swift lines and his powerful iconography make it a stunning artwork and a landmark acquisition by the British Museum.
The prints are on display in gallery 90 from 3rd May to 2nd September for free.