Le Repas Frugal

The Frugal Repast

Date: September 1904, Paris
Medium: Etching and scraper on zinc
Dimensions: Print ~463 x 376 mm, ~18 1/4 x 14 3/4″; sheet ~650 x 503 mm, ~25 3/8 x 19 3/4“ (exact measurements TBD)
Signature: The edition was unsigned.
Selected References:
Bloch 1
Baer 2 II b2
A Life of Picasso, Volume I, John Richardson, illustrated p.301
The Ultimate Picasso, Léal et al., illustrated p. 74
(There are numerous additional references, in addition to the two above-referenced catalogues raisonnés of his original prints and the two major biographies.)
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 around thirty mostly signed proofs prior to steelfacing.
Paper: Van Gelder wove
Impression: Fine
Price:  Upon request

Le Repas Frugal is without question Picasso’s most famous print. If a book on Picasso includes an illustration of but one print, it is almost always this one. Apart from one inconsequential, rare, and unpublished etching of 1899, Picasso began printmaking in earnest in 1904-1905 with a series of fifteen etchings and drypoints.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 this etching, widely considered one of his several very best prints, a testament to a genius that 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.  Picasso’s first art dealer, Ambrose Vollard, published and cleverly packaged these etchings and drypoints as La Suite des Saltimbanques (The Acrobat SuiteSaltimbanque means circus performer or acrobat in French), despite the fact that some of the 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 all 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 very charming in that classically Blue and Rose Period sort of way: not necessarily with its famously elongated line (a number of the figures are frankly rather squat; see also Bloch numbers 4, 5, and 10), but with that certain nobility amid poverty and sadness that we’ve seen in the paintings of this period.  But, well beyond simple charm, the etching at hand is gripping and strikingly beautiful.

The historical context of this work is provided by Brigitte Léal, et al. in The Ultimate Picasso, p. 72, “Picasso returned to Paris in April 1904, accompanied by Sebastia Junyer Vidal. In the heart of Montmartre, Picasso took one of the studios in the house at 13, rue Ravignan, known as the Bateau-Lavoir. His neighbor, Fernande Olivier, who would be his lover and companion until 1912, remembered ‘a mattress on four legs in one corner. A little iron stove, covered in rust; on top a yellow earthenware bowl for washing …. A cane chair, easels, canvases of every size and tubes of paint scattered all over the floor with brushes, oil cans, and a bowl for etching fluid …. At the time, Picasso was working on an etching, which has since become famous, of a man and a woman sitting at a table in a wine shop. There is the most intense feeling of poverty, alcoholism, and a startling realism in the figures of this wretched, starving couple.’ The etching was The Frugal Repast…and it set the tone for his new style, which adopted a mannerist technique emphasized by means of a sharp, rather nervous line.”

Please refer to our contemporaneous drawing, Femme de Profil, which apparently served as a preparatory drawing for this print and in which Picasso elaborated the attitude of the woman’s raised hand.