PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Séries 347

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Séries 347
the rare complete set of 347 etching and aquatints, on Rives paper, 1968, each signed in pencil and numbered 19/50 (there were also seventeen unnumbered proof sets), published by galerie Louise Leiris, Paris, 1969, each with full margins, in very good condition
Largest Image: 19 ½ x 25 1/8 in. (495 x 638 mm.)
Largest Sheet: 24 5/8 x 31 ½ in. (626 x 800 mm.)
Bloch 1481-1827; Baer 1496-1842

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Lindsay Griffith
Lindsay Griffith Head of Department

Lot Essay

Picasso’s final decade was marked by a retreat from public attention and cultural life in Paris. In 1961, together with Jacqueline Roque, he moved from Aix-en-Provence to Mougins, near Cannes, where he purchased Notre Dame de Vie, a large eighteenth-century farmhouse on the edge of the village. The relocation was gradual, and it wasn’t until 1963 that Picasso transferred the contents of his studio in Paris, which eventually took up the entire ground floor.

During this period Picasso satisfied his printmaking urges by creating linocuts, since the technique did not require specialist equipment or expertise. However, once settled, and sure that he would not be returning to Paris, he encouraged the Crommelynck brothers, Aldo and Piero, who had worked as his master printers for several years, to set up a satellite workshop in an old bakery nearby. Their proximity was important, since Picasso worked at a feverish pace, producing sometimes six or even seven prints in one day. The narrow lane between the workshop and the farmhouse became known as la route du cuivres (‘copper road’) such was the frequency with which the brothers and their assistants shuttled copper printing plates back and forth.

The final decade of Picasso’s life was one of frantic activity, the urge to express himself no doubt intensified by intimations of mortality. Just how active is made clear by the fact that the Crommelyncks are thought to have collaborated on approximately 750 prints between 1963 and 1973, fully one quarter of the total number made in a career lasting over seven decades. But even this prodigious effort pales in comparison to the seven months in 1968 when Picasso, in a whirlwind of creativity, authored the 347 compositions of the eponymous series. Unsurprisingly, this protean effort was made possible only by the exclusion of all other artistic activity – never before had Picasso turned aside from painting, drawing and sculpture for such an extended period.

Suite 347 is, to all intents and purposes, a diary in graphic form. Themes and characters appear and disappear with dizzying rapidity, and the fact that each print is dated allows us to follow the twists and turns of the artist’s thoughts on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. The successive entries read like a sprawling epic novel. Part confessional, part fantastical, Picasso unashamedly illustrates his experiences and desires in an effort to leave as complete a documentation of himself and his imagination as possible. Scenes of musketeers, prostitutes, circus acrobats, painters and their models mingle with the artist’s avatars: faun, jester, buffoon and child prodigy amongst others. Picasso also engages in dialogue with artists of the past; Ingres, Goya, Delacroix and Velásquez, but above all Rembrandt, with his beloved Saskia. The two most elaborate narrative threads concern the fifteenth century novel La Celestina, which involves an ageing procuress being used to seduce a young maiden, and the story of Raphaël and his model and mistress La Fornarina.

Technically, the prints display the virtuosity one would expect to see in a printmaker who had spent a lifetime learning from, and subsequently disregarding, the best printers ever to have worked at a press. In particular the aquatints created by washing acid directly onto the plate, manipulating the chaos of lines into an image, shows a confidence and sureness of touch that very few artists, especially artists in their 87th year, have ever achieved.

Picasso very rarely – some say never – titled his prints. The titles that are now attached to his graphic work are usually the invention of his printers or dealers. Thus, the Series 347 is so-called simply because of the number of prints it comprises. Similarly, he did not stipulate to his publisher, Galerie Louise Leiris in Paris, that they should be sold as a complete set, even though he clearly regarded the prints as a cohesive group. Almost inevitably, sets were broken up and plates sold individually, with the result that very few complete examples are thought to have survived intact to this day.

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