Au Cirque

At the Circus

Artist: Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
 1905, Paris
Medium: Drypoint on copper
Dimensions: Print 220 x 140 mm, 7.2 x 9.3″; Sheet 510 x 328 mm, 20.1 x 12.9″
Signature: The edition was unsigned.
Selected references:
Bloch 9
Baer 11 b2
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: The Early Years 1881-1907; Könemann, 1985, ills. p. 415.
D. Wye, A Picasso Portfolio: Prints from the Museum of Modern Art; MOMA, 2010, ills. p. 23.
Edition: From the unsigned edition of 250 on Van Gelder wove printed by Fort for Vollard in 1913. There was also an unsigned edition of 27 or 29 on Japan laid, and, prior to steelfacing, also about a dozen mostly signed proofs.
Paper: Van Gelder wove, untrimmed, three deckled edges as issued
Watermark: Van Gelder Zonen
Impression: Very strong (which is significant for this drypoint, the impressions of which were printed with varying degrees of boldness), with nice plate tone
Condition: Fine, with a lovely light ivory sheet color as issued (an unobtrusive, 1″ soft handling crease above the subject; circumferential, narrow 2-4 mm band of mild UV toning just peripherally to the platemark; on the reverse, a small amount of tape residue at 3 foci at the top)
Price: Upon request

Of all the fifteen intaglio prints that comprise the Saltimbanque Suite, Picasso chose just this one to depict these acrobatic street performers while performing.   The artist generally preferred to depict their behind-the-scenes daily life.   But of all the various acts these clowns and acrobats put on, what inspired Picasso to choose equestrians in particular?

Picasso first arrived in Paris in 1900 but then moved back and forth to Barcelona until he permanently settled in France four years later.  He was in Paris for good by the time he created this artwork in 1905, but his thoughts at the moment of its inception may have drifted to his first girlfriend, an equestrienne named Rosita del Oro well-known enough to have merited her own poster.  As John Richardson, one of Picasso’s principal biographer writes, “The conquest of this star equestrienne by a boy just turned fifteen says a lot for his personality and sexual magnetism. Nor was this a short-lived adolescent fling; it was a relationship that lasted on and off for a number of years. At the very end of his life, however, Rosita comes back to haunt Picasso. His lifelong passion for the circus, his identification with acrobats and clowns, stems from this early romance” (in A Life of Picasso, Volume I, 1881-1906, New York, 1991, p. 68).

Rosita del Oro, poster

Notably, this beautiful artwork is one of the few prints that the curators of the MOMA chose to display in the MOMA’s 2010 retrospective of Picasso prints (see ref. above) as well as to illustrate in the highly selective exhibition catalog, both drawn from their vast Picasso print collection.  (The catalog illustrated but about 5% of Picasso’s original prints.)

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