Poised between Picasso's two most significant periods, Le Repas Frugal represents a pivotal point in the artist's oeuvre. As part of his first series of prints, entitled La Suite des Saltimbanques, it contains elements of both the 'Blue' Period, marked by its melancholic introspection, and the 'Rose' Period, characterised by the artist's fascination with strolling acrobat players.
Living in Montmartre in the early 1900s, Picasso was surrounded by the urban poor. An empathetic understanding of those who lived around him together with the personal grief caused by the suicide of his friend, Carlos Casagemas, no doubt enabled him to represent with great sensitivity the quiet dignity of those who suffer. Here, as with other images from the 'Blue' period, emaciated figures sit silently before a vague and empty background.
This is in marked contrast to the lighter figures of the subsequent era. Along with the poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, Picasso grew preoccupied with the strolling street performers that enlivened Parisian market squares. Although it is not certain that the couple in Le Repas Frugal are performers, the suggestion is there. Picasso is known to have been working on this print at the time that he first began to take note of the Saltimbanques and it became part of the series of the same name. Thus Le Repas Frugal is rooted in the introspection of the Blue period and yet the subject matter predicts the concerns of the Rose.
La Suite des Saltimbanques comprises the elements that were most important to the young Picasso from both of these periods - the bohemian life of those who lived on the edge of society, the theatre and the circus. First printed in small numbers by the master printer Eugène Delâtre in 1905, the plates were later bought by Ambroise Vollard. He had the plates steel-faced and in 1913 the edition was printed by Louis Fort.
Having just learnt the technique from Ricardo Canals, a fellow resident of Montmarte, it is astonishing that Picasso produced this icon in the history of printmaking at the age of only twenty-three. One of his masterpieces as a printmaker, it was only his second work in the medium, which fascinated him for the remainder of his life.