Born in Malaga, Spain in 1881, Pablo Picasso is universally regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His stature ranged from painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer to poet and playwright, living most of his life in France. While most well-known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture and co-inventing collage, Picasso also developed a wide variety of artistic styles. After his formative years of painting in a naturalistic manner, he experimented with different theories, techniques, and ideas. Picasso was extraordinarily prolific throughout the course of his long life of 91 years and along with rival, Henri Matisse, is viewed as a leader of modern art as we know it.
The son of an academic painter, José Ruiz Blanco, he began to draw at an early age. In 1895, the family moved to Barcelona, and Picasso studied there at La Lonja, the academy of fine arts. His visit to Horta de Ebro from 1898 to 1899, and his association with the group at the café Els Quatre Gats about 1899 were crucial to his early artistic development. In 1900, Picasso's first exhibition took place in Barcelona, and that fall he went to Paris for the first of several stays during the early years of the century. Picasso settled in Paris in April 1904, and soon his circle of friends included Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Gertrude and Leo Stein, as well as two dealers, Ambroise Vollard and Berthe Weill.
His style developed from the Blue Period (1901-04) to the Rose Period (1905) to the pivotal work Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), and the subsequent evolution of Cubism from an Analytic phase (ca. 1908-11), through its Synthetic phase (beginning in 1912-13).
Picasso's collaboration on ballet and theatrical productions began in 1916. Soon thereafter, his work was characterized by neo-classicism and a renewed interest in drawing and figural representation. In the 1920s, the artist and his wife, Olga (whom he had married in 1918), continued to live in Paris, to travel frequently, and to spend their summers at the beach. From 1925 into the 1930s, Picasso was involved to a certain degree with the Surrealists, and from the fall of 1931 he was especially interested in making sculpture. In 1932, with large exhibitions at the Galeries Georges Petit, Paris, and the Kunsthaus Zürich, and the publication of the first volume of Christian Zervos's catalogue raisonné, Picasso's fame increased markedly.
By 1936, the Spanish Civil War had profoundly affected Picasso, the expression of which culminated in his painting Guernica (1937, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid). Picasso's association with the Communist Party began in 1944. From the late 1940s, he lived in the South of France. Among the enormous number of Picasso exhibitions that were held during the artist's lifetime, those at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1939 and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, in 1955 were most significant. In 1961, the artist married Jacqueline Roque, and they moved to Mougins. There Picasso continued his prolific work in painting, drawing, prints, ceramics, and sculpture until his death April 8, 1973.
Although Pablo Picasso taught himself the engraving techniques that he mastered, he actually produced more than 2,500 engravings. In the 1930s he produced what is known as the Vollard Suite, a series of 100 prints whose themes provide an insight into the life of the Spanish artist and the difficult period the world was experiencing at the time.
Vollard: Nothing had predestined Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) to reach the pinnacle of the art market. Although criticised for his commercial methods, today his name is associated with the artists who he discovered and supported, and whose creativity he occasionally steered. Passionate about literature, he decided to embark on a career in publishing with the ambition of bringing together the best authors and the best artists. Over time, he increasingly specialized in publishing prints… and that is how he convinced PICASSO to give him 100 engravings (and their commercial rights) in exchange for two paintings by RENOIR and CÉZANNE.
Who was Henri M. Petiet? Henri Petiet was a key figure in the 20th Century art market. His ancestor, Claude Petiet, Minister of War in the French Directory Government appointed the young General Bonaparte as Chief Commander of the army in Italy, leading the campaign there which earned the Petiet family a noble title. Endowed with great intelligence, a prodigious memory and an appetite for collecting, Henri’s primary passion was the fine art print.
In 1925 he became an art dealer, six months after meeting Ambroise Vollard, who had worked with the likes of Cezanne and Van Gogh, and had organized major exhibitions, such as Picasso’s first in 1901. In the US market Petiet was the man behind entire print departments of great American Museums. He played a key role in enhancing the place of the print in major collections, both public and private, thanks to the confidence and trust he gained from important curators, dealers and collectors.
His greatest stroke of genius was in his purchasing of the Vollard Collection when Ambroise Vollard passed away. Henri Petiet moved fast and bought all of the prints from the Vollard collection including a monumental ensemble of prints, the ‘Vollard Suite’, Picasso’s print masterpiece, a set of 100 plates etched and engraved between 1930 and 1937 on a variety of subjects. Only a few of the prints had been signed. But in November of 1950, and after long negotiations, Picasso agreed to sign one set of the ‘Vollard Suite’ after Petiet met the demands and the fees of the highly sought-after Master. After that Picasso refused to sign any more of the Vollard Suite sets.