The Vollard Suite, Pablo Picasso’s most celebrated series of etchings, comprises 100 etchings produced by Picasso between 1930 and 1937, at a critical juncture in Picasso’s career. The prints were made when Picasso was involved in a passionate affair with his muse and model, Marie-Thérèse Walter, whose classical features are a recurrent presence in the series. They offer an ongoing process of change and metamorphosis that eludes any final resolution. Picasso gave no order to the plates nor did he assign any titles to them. Picasso kept the plates open-ended to allow connections to be freely made among them, yet certain thematic groupings can also be identified.
The predominant theme of the Vollard Suite is the Sculptor’s Studio (46 etchings), which deals with Picasso’s engagement with classical sculpture. At this point he was making sculpture at his new home and studio, the Château de Boisgeloup outside Paris. The etchings of his young model, Marie-Thérèse, represent a dialogue alternating between the artist and his creation and between the artist and his model. Various scenarios are played out between the sculptor, the model and the created work. Among them is the classical myth of Pygmalion in which the sculptor becomes so enamoured of his creation that it comes to life at the artist’s touch. Classical linearity and repose within the studio also alternate with darker, violent forces. The latter are represented by scenes of brutal passion and by the Minotaur (15 etchings), the half-man, half-animal of classical myth, which became central to Picasso’s personal mythology. Picasso in a spirit of competitiveness tips his cap to his great predecessors, Rembrandt and Goya. The series concludes with three portraits of Vollard himself, made in 1937.
The Vollard Suite takes its name from Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), the greatest avant-garde Paris art dealer and print publisher of his day, who gave Picasso his first Paris exhibition in 1901. In exchange for some pictures, Picasso produced for Vollard a group of 100 etchings between 1930 and 1937. The mammoth task of printing some 310 sets, plus three further sets on vellum, was completed by the Paris printer Roger Lacourière in 1939. Vollard’s unexpected death in a car accident that year, followed by the outbreak of the Second World War, delayed the distribution of the Vollard Suite until the 1950s by the dealer Henri Petiet who had purchased most of the prints from the Vollard estate.