Picasso’s Vollard Suite in Hong Kong

At the Hong Kong University Art Gallery until 20 July, as part of “Le French May” the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau and The University Museum and Art Gallery are presenting “Pablo Picasso: The Vollard Suite”.

Pablo Picasso was undoubtedly one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, and one who excelled in many areas of fine art. These are considered among his very finest prints, and it’s not often you’ll get the chance to see them together like this.

Tina Pang is the curator of the University Museum and Art Gallery.

TIna Pang: “I think it is rare to see Picasso prints in Hong Kong. And it is rare to see the whole collection of the Vollard Suite. I believe even the National Library in France doesn’t have a complete set. Nor does the Picasso Museum in Paris. The set on show in Hong Kong was not created as a complete set by itself. It was assembled over a number of years. So the collector has managed to collect one of each of the prints and put back together the original hundred prints.”

During his lifetime Picasso created some 2,000 prints in etching, dry point and aquatint.  For the first 40 years of his artistic career, in his printmaking Picasso concentrated almost exclusively on intaglio processes, in which the ink is held in carved incisions. The hundred intaglio prints that make up the Vollard Suite are generally regarded as Picasso’s printmaking at its best.

Tina Pang: “This set of prints was named The Vollard Suite. It’s named after Ambroise Vollard, a strong supporter and Picasso’s agent until 1910. Vollard was with Picasso through the early part of his career and collected many of his paintings. In 1930, he decided to commission Picasso to create an exclusive set of a hundred prints for him. Picasso took around seven years to complete them. There are various theories of about why he took on such a major task, but some believe he did it to make exchanges with some earlier works that were no longer in his possession.”

The prints, produced in the 1930s, fall into five main series: The Sculptor’s Studio, The Battle of Love, Rembrandt, the Minotaur,and the Blind Minotaur. The Sculptor’s Studio series is the largest. In them, Picasso depicts himself as a somewhat mythological sculptor working in the studio.In some, his young and beautiful model, Marie Therese is in his arms. It was a celebration. At fifty, Picasso had found a new love.

The Battle of Love series is more classical in origin, and in its references, as Picasso returns to Greek mythology to depict the minotaur. Picasso identified with the half-man half-bull beast, driven here by desire and his attraction for his model. Around 1933, as the relationship between Picasso and his then wife began to deteriorate, he depicted a fallen minotaur which may have implied his agony at the time. In the Blind Minotaur Guided by a Girl in the Night, the Minotaur is no longer filled with desire but has lost his vision and become helpless, guided by a little girl carrying a dove.

The prints in the Vollard Suite are not only masterworks of printmaking, they are also representations of the artist’s inner world.

Tina Pang: “Many are slightly experimental in nature. You can see in some of the prints, sculptures that he went on to create. But in many of the other works, he’s experimenting with sculptural ideas that he decides to scrap. He never did make them. He is playing with Greek classical figures, but he also playing with different kinds of classicism, which is to do with actually the art of print-making itself. He very much admires the prints of Rembrandt, the 17th century Dutch painter. And also the Spanish artist, Goya, who is also a very powerful print maker. So he uses the techniques those artists use in etching. He creates a very wide range of prints within the collection of the hundred works. Some of them are very sketchy and experimental, others look almost finished and generate a very complete composition. So, I think it is a very rich set of images.”

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