La Danse Barbare (devant Salomé et Hérode)

The Barbaric Dance (before Salomé and Herod)

Artist: Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Date:
 1905, Paris
Medium: Drypoint on copper
Dimensions: Print 184 x 236 mm, 7.2 x 9.3″; sheet 326 x 508 mm, 12.8 x 20.0″
Signature: The edition was unsigned.
References: Bloch 15, Baer 18 b2
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
Impression: Deep, fine impression with rich plate tone
Condition: Fine (small, unobtrusive, soft handling crease right bottom margin; small, 1.5 cm crease at the bottom right corner with a 7 mm light beige stain just above at the right edge; on the reverse, two hinge remnants at the top and mild skinning top center from a prior hinge; “le 128” inscribed in very faint graphite pencil center bottom edge)
Price: Upon request

Apart from one inconsequential, rare, and unpublished etching of 1899, Picasso began printmaking in earnest in 1904-1905 with a series of fifteen etchings and drypoints. The first of these was Le Repas Frugal, widely considered one of his very best prints, a testament to a genius who could master a new medium so readily and so completely as to emerge at its pinnacle by the time he had completed a single work.  One of my favorite prints of the series is this corpulent, aging acrobat.  Picasso’s first art dealer, Ambrose Vollard, published and cleverly packaged these etchings and drypoints as La Suite des Saltimbanques (The Acrobat Suite—“Saltimbanques” referred to the itinerant street circus performers of the day), despite the fact that the best prints in the series are portraits having nothing to do with the circus. The Suite comprises all the prints of Picasso’s Blue and Rose Periods, both temporally and stylistically, if not in coloration (they are printed in black ink) and are therefore the only Picasso prints that would strike the fancy of the typical Picasso hater, who likes only the Blue Period.  (Such as my dear departed mother—I know this syndrome all too well!)  In general, these etchings and drypoints are charming in that iconic Blue and Rose Period sort of way: not necessarily with its famously elongated line, but with that certain nobility amid poverty and sadness that we’ve seen in the paintings of this period.

Brigitte Baer provides her insights to Salomé (B14), the companion piece of this drypoint, in Picasso the Engraver, p. 14, as follows:

“…the theme of Salomé, …as is well known, is an offshoot of the Medusa theme.  This motif, which would reappear under different guises until 1971 (see Baer 2010), is here still in its infancy.  Picasso treats it in an ironical way, at least if we compare it to the Salomé of Gustave Moreau.  No longer is Herod raised up on his throne in a dominating position, with Herodias tamely sitting at his feet; Picasso’s Herodias is in control, erect, while poor fat Herod looks as if he were leaning on a kitchen table.  Instead of being the focal point of the group, the head of John the Baptist has only his platter for a halo.  And Salomé, stripped of her glittering jewels, dances a kind of cancan, tossing her leg up to the level of her raised arm (the raised arm in Gustave Moreau’s Apparition).  She looks like a May Milton (whose poster is pinned to the wall of the 1901 Chambre bleue [Blue Room]), but here is stark naked.  Could she be ‘catching her foot’ (en train de prendre son pied, which is a common vulgar French expression meaning ‘getting her kicks’, to have an orgasm).  The composition, cut on the bias [sic] like a wide ribbon across some dignitary’s paunch, is all the more striking and beautiful because the sheet is very empty, so empty that the Delâtre workshop thought it was a good thing to halt the tone of the plate a centimeter short of the platemark.  Picasso must have been hopping mad!  It seems clear that the young painter—o delectatio morosa—superficially identified with the saltimbanques, the gypsies, with the lonely blind man and, of course, with John the Forerunner.”

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