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Sculpteur au Repos avec Modèle démasqué et sa Représentation sculptée (Bloch 159)

1933 (March 27.II, Paris)

Etching printed on Montval laid paper with Vollard watermark
From the Suite Vollard (S.V. 50), edition of 260
Inscribed "u.l. 159 307 19472" in pencil, on verso
Printed by Lacourière, 1939
Published by Vollard, 1939
Image: 10 1/2 x 7 5/8 inches
Sheet: 17 3/4 x 13 3/8 inches
Framed: 21 5/8 x 18 1/4 inches
(Bloch 159) (Baer 312.B.d)

Picasso’s Suite Vollard has long been understood as the artist’s interpretation of the main theme behind the ancient myth of Pygmalion. In the story, a sculptor who has forsworn the female sex creates an ideal woman out of ivory and falls in love with it. He showers the figure with gifts and occasional caresses. Later, he prays to Venus to bring her to life and his wish is granted; they are married and bear a son. The central story—the love of the artist for his art—has captured the imaginations of artists and writers for centuries and many versions exist in painting and literature. Picasso’s interpretation is carried out by a sculptor whose features recall classical sculpture and a beautiful young model who resembles his mistress at the time, Marie-Thérèse Walter. However, Picasso goes beyond the basic myth and populates his scenes with sculptures of differing subjects and styles, as well as the presence of a living model that competes for his attentions. In so doing, he goes beyond the simplicity of the original story to create a grand allegory of the connection between art, life, and love.

 

Like Pygmalion, the sculptor in this image appears to be more in love with his creation than the flesh-and-blood model that lies behind him, who is also the subject of the artwork. She seems somewhat resigned to the situation, though she reminds him of her presence by draping her arm over him and holding his hand. On top of her head sits a mask that is similar to her own visage—perhaps a representation of the face on the sculpture that is out of view? Its presence seems to reinforce the connection between the sculpture and the model.

 

As noted, this scene is more psychologically complex than the simple tale of Pygmalion. This sculptor is more rooted in reality than fantasy, working from a live model rather than an idealized notion. However, the sculpture is more fascinating than the woman who inspired it. To complicate the matter further, the work would not exist without the model—they are completely connected. Picasso poses such problems as he delves through the relationship between art and passion in his “Sculptor’s Studio” etchings.

 

The current impression is from the edition of 260 printed on Montval laid paper watermarked “Vollard” and “Picasso”. (There was also an edition of fifty with wide margins and a separate watermark, and a small edition of three.) It was printed by Roger Lacourière in late 1938 or early 1939. The untimely death of Ambroise Vollard in the summer of 1939 delayed their commerce until 1948 when the prints were acquired by dealer Henri Petiet through the Vollard estate.