Grand Air
Grand Air (Bloch 289)

1936 (Probably June, Paris)

Etching with scraper printed on Montval laid paper with Montval watermark
One of a dozen or so proofs of the third (final) state, outside the edition of ten 
Inscribed "Epreuve d'artiste" in pencil, lower right
Printed by Lacourière, 1936
Published by Guy Lévis Mano as an illustration for Paul Eluard's Les yeux fertiles, 1936
Image: 16 3/8 x 12 1/2 inches 
Sheet: 20 x 13 1/8 inches
Framed: 26 3/4 x 21 3/8 inches
(Bloch 289) (Baer 608.III.B) (Cramer 27)

 

The current impression is an extremely rare artist’s proof on Montval laid paper, printed by Lacourière, outside of the edition of ten included in the deluxe edition of Les Yeux Fertiles.

 

When this plate was created, Picasso had recently come out of a period during which he had abandoned painting, instead devoting his energies to writing Surrealist poetry. However, these are not Picasso’s words, but rather those of his friend Paul Éluard, who was a major Surrealist poet. Though Picasso often supplied images to compliment poems by his colleagues and friends, he rarely collaborated with them—this is a rare exception. The story of its creation calls to mind the idea of the Exquisite Corpse, a parlor activity invented by the Surrealists that is now quite common: the first participant completes a drawing or a sentence to begin a composition and conceals a majority of what has been done by folding the paper. The next person elaborates on what can be seen, each in turn.

 

According to Patrick Cramer, the author of the catalogue raisonné of Picasso’s illustrated books, Grand Air was created through a similar activity (though lacking the element of concealment). First, Éluard composed the poem in the central area and dated it, noting the date and time period during which he wrote the poem. He then gave the plate to Picasso, who responded by adding a series of surrealist images in the margins: a goat-like female nude holding a small convex mirror; a monstrous mask-like bearded face; a scribbled landscape; and an abstracted female figure lying on a bed with a cat. Picasso dated his work June 4, 1936 at the lower left.

 

Unlike most of Picasso’s prints, the date on this image reads correctly, from left to right. That is because it is a heliogravure rather than a standard etching. The image on a standard intaglio print is always a mirror-image of that on the plate—by habit, Picasso did not concern himself with the reversal and dated the plate normally, from left to right, and it would then print in reverse. To create this image, Éluard and Picasso composed their work on a transparent base that was then transferred by master printer Lacourière to a copper plate by exposure to light, in the manner of a photograph, using a complex chemical process. The plate was then etched and printed in the same manner as any other intaglio plate. Because the image was reversed twice (first through the transfer process and then through the printing process), it appears as originally composed.

 

The print was later included in the deluxe edition of ten copies on Japon Impériale of Les Yeux Fertiles, issued in October of 1936 (there were a total of 1490 additional copies of the book on other papers that included the typeset poem but not this plate). The book would be considered among Éluard’s most important contributions to the Surrealist cannon.

 

Below is an English translation of the poem:

The shore hands trembling

Descended under the rain

A stairway of mists

You were leaving all naked

Quivering Faux marble

Early morning complexion

Treasure guarded by huge beasts

Who themselves were keeping some sun under their wing

For you

Beasts that we knew without seeing

Over the walls of our nights

Over the horizon of our kisses

The contagious laughter of the hyenas

Could well gnaw the old bones

Of the beings who live one by one

We were playing in the sun in the rain by the sea

At having only one stare one sky and one sea

Ours

 

3 June, 1936, 3 - 3:15