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Sculpteur au Repos avec Marie-Thérèse et sa Représentation en Vénus pudique (Bloch 160)

1933 (March 27.III, Paris)

Etching printed on laid Montval with Montgolfier watermark
From the Suite Vollard (S.V. 51), edition of 50
Signed by artist in pencil, lower right
Inscribed "312" in pencil, lower left margin; "160, 312, 19659" in pencil on verso upper left; and other notations 
Printed by Lacourière, 1939
Published by Vollard, 1939
Image: 10 1/2 x 7 5/8 inches
Sheet: 19 3/4 x 15 1/4 inches
Framed: 21 7/8 x 18 inches
(Bloch 160) (Baer 313.B.c)

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 in love with his creation. A real woman who resembles Picasso’s mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, looms behind him. She is out of scale with the others, almost larger-than-life, as if to assert her dominant role in the creation of the art that captures the sculptor’s attention. However, she is psychologically disconnected from the scene, gazing in another direction.

 

The pose of the sculpture in this etching bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the standing nude in Rembrandt’s famous etching The Artist and His Model, ca. 1639, which has also been interpreted as the Dutch artist’s version of the Pygmalion myth. Art historian Lisa Florman has successfully argued that Rembrandt’s plate was likely a source of inspiration for the Suite Vollard.i

 

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 one of fifty deluxe impressions with large margins printed on Montval laid paper watermarked “Papeterie Montgolfier à Montval,” outside of the edition of 260 (there was also 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.

 


i Myth and Metamorphosis: Picasso’s Classical Prints of the 1930s. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2000, 128-39.