(from Ovid’s Metamorphoses)
Artist: Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Medium: Etching on copper
Dimensions: Print 148 x 170mm, Sheet 325 x 255mm, 12.8 x 10.04 ”
Signature: The edition was unsigned.
References: Bloch 99; Geiser (Baer) 143b; Goeppert/Cramer 19; Rauch 54; From Manet to Hockney 91; Lejard 136; Skira 292; Stern 92; Chapon pp.146-148; Matarasso 19; Logan Collection 56; Museum of Modern Art 162; The Artist & The Book 224
Edition: From the edition of 95, of the total edition of 145 printed by Louis Fort in 1931 before the cancellation of the plate
Paper: Arches laid; untrimmed
Impression: Very fine
Condition: Flawless; framed
Price: On request
This artwork belongs to the series of thirty etchings with which Picasso famously illustrated Ovid’s Metamorphoses, published by Albert Skira in 1931. It is one of the fifteen half-page illustrations which Skira used for the chapter headings and was in fact used for the first chapter, presumably because it was favored by Picasso and/or the publisher. (These chapter headings bore no specific relationship to the text, unlike the fifteen full-page illustrations.) As the reader would begin to leaf through the book, this, then, is the first image that would be encountered. It depicts three men evocatively, all the more remarkably because of the spare line. The central figure seems lost in thought, a fitting way to start a book. The figures on the left and right seem to faintly smile and frown, respectively, portents of the development of the story.
Picasso created these etchings contemporaneously with the earliest prints of the Vollard Suite, with which it shares the simple elegance of the artist’s neoclassical style. Roland Penrose, one of Picasso’s primary biographers, was particularly impressed by Picasso’s Ovids because of their “astonishing perfection of line”. (R. Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, 3rd Edition, p. 264) “In his graphic work of the 1930’s, the artist often displayed a strongly classical spirit, but his line is never static or conventional—rather subtly distorted to give a sense of freedom and movement.” (The Artist & The Book”, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 224)
Albert Skira was just starting out in the publishing business when he decided to shoot for the stars and ask Picasso to illustrate a book for him. Picasso agreed but was at a loss as to which book to choose to illustrate. After some time, Picasso related a dream to Pierre Matisse, the artist’s son, in which women were transformed into fish. Pierre seminally proposed that Picasso illustrate Ovid’s Metamorphoses. For his fiftieth birthday on October 25, 1931, Picasso received the first proof of this book from Skira.