Museums and prints (2): The British Museum example

Last week, our article presented the example of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of New York, a brilliant example of the place which prints have in this world-class museum. But I don’t want to give the idea that prints only have a good place with in modern art. Therefore this article will try to present the commitment of an institution as respectable and solid as the British Museum, in London, regarding the prints as component of art.

The British Museum announced on November 29th, 2011 to have made the exceptional acquisition of a complete set of the “suite Vollard “, a series of 100 engravings executed in the 30s by Picasso for the Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard. The British Museum thus joined the very restricted circle of museums possessing a complete set of these major engravings in the artistic life of Picasso, like the National Gallery in Washington, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Musée Picasso in Paris.

These engravings were realized between 1930 and 1937, while the style of Picasso evolved of an uncluttered neoclassicism towards the appearance of key themes in his personal mythology, as the faun and the Minotaur. 46 engravings have the artist and his model for subject (in this case, Marie-Thérèse Walter) in the studio of the Boisgeloup castle, near Paris, where Picasso devoted himself to sculpture.

The Minotaur, at the same time soft and threatening, makes its first appearance in these series, and will become a recurring theme, because he is represented in extremely famous “Guernica”, realized after the bombardment of the Basque city in 1937, a milestone of the Spanish civil war. “The engravings of the suite Vollard lead directly to Guernica “, explained Stephen Coppel, in charge of the contemporary collection of drawings and engravings of the British Museum.

The “suite Vollard” arose from an arrangement between Picasso and his first art dealer, Ambroise Vollard: Picasso made a commitment to supply him 100 engravings in exchange off a painting of Cézanne and another of Renoir. About 310 complete sets of engravings were then produced from 100 original patches. Most were given at the death of Vollard in 1939 to Henri Petiet, another art dealer. But the series have then been scattered, so that the acquisition of a complete set from, the heirs of Henri Petiet, is considered as an extraordinary chance.

The set was bought for approximately 1 million pounds, thanks to a donation of a British businessman. Engravings will be exposed from April 26th till September 2nd, 2012 in the British Museum, beside other works which inspired Picasso, from the Etruscan art to drawings and engravings of Goya and Rembrandt.

It will make a good opportunity to go and visit London, the British Museum and to admire the genius of Picasso and the other great masters. When did the last acquisition of such a complete collection of engravings by one of our museums, so respectable and solid happen? It will be necessary to make a memory’s effort!

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