- Pablo Picasso
- Le Repas frugal
Henri M. Petiet, Paris (acquired from the estate of the above)
Private Collection, Paris (by descent from the above)
Marc Rosen Fine Art, New York
Wolfgang Wittrock Kunsthandel, Düsseldorf
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Wilhelm Boeck & Jaime Sabartés, Picasso, London, 1952, illustration of another impression p. 368
Alberto Moravia & Paolo Lecaldano, L’opera completa di Picasso blu e rosa, Milan, 1968, illustration of another impression p. 86
André Fermigier, Picasso, 1969, no. 27, illustration of another impression p. 45
Cesareo Rodriguez-Aguilera, Picassos de Barcelona, Barcelona, 1974, no. 43, illustration of another impression p. 60
Timothy Hilton, Picasso, London, 1975, no. 22, illustration of another impression p. 39
Felix A. Baumann, Pablo Picasso. Leben und Werk, Stuttgart, 1976, no. 36, illustration of another impression p. 25
Pablo Picasso. Werke aus der Sammlung Marina Picasso (exhibition catalogue), Haus der Kunst, Munich, 1981, illustration of another impression p. 38
Georges Bloch, Pablo Picasso, Catalogue de l’œuvre gravé et lithographié, 1904-1967, Bern, 1984, vol. I, no. 1, illustration of another impression p. 21
Timothy Hilton, Picasso, London, 1985, no. 166, illustration of another impression p. 225
John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, London, 1988, illustration of another impression p. 301
Brigitte Baer & Bernhard Geiser, Picasso peintre-graveur, Bern, 1990, vol. I, no. 2, illustration of another impression pp. 18-20
Carsten-Peter Warncke & Ingo F. Walther (ed.), Pablo Picasso 1881-1973, Cologne, 1991, illustration of another impression p. 108
Anatoly Podoksik, Pablo Picasso. The Creative Eye (from 1881 to 1914), Bournemouth, 1996, illustration of another impression p. 50
Marilyn McCully (ed.), A Picasso Anthology – Documents, Criticism, Reminiscences, London & Princeton, 1997, illustration of another impression p. 48
Brigitte Léal, Christine Piot & Marie-Laure Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, no. 143, illustration of another impression p. 74Heinz Berggruen, Monsieur Picasso und Herr Schaften, Berlin, 2001, illustration of another impression p. 9
R. Stanley Johnson, Pablo Picasso. Works on Paper – Historical Perspectives, Chicago, 2004, no. 2, illustration of another impression p. 25
Marilyn McCully, Picasso in Paris 1900-1907, London, 2011, illustration of another impression pl. 76
Stephen Coppel, Picasso Prints – The Vollard Suite, London, 2012, illustration of another impression in colour p. 13
Le Repas frugal is Pablo Picasso’s first major printed work, marking the beginning of the artist’s lifelong experimentation and fascination with printmaking. This quintessential and final Blue Period icon links his Spanish past with his French future.
The subject matter reveals Picasso’s preoccupations about the world around him, as a young man at the start of his career. Created in 1904, when the artist was only 23 years old, it is the first significant print he made. Prior to this, the only prints he had produced were experimental and minor ones: an engraving, Picador, in 1899 and a woodcut, Torero, in 1900. It is the only print linked to the artist’s Blue Period, recognisable by the pervasive melancholy and poverty that the image depicts. Carefully composed, this image is eloquent in its simplicity, and yet the variety of etched and drypoint lines and use of a scraper create an astonishing range of tonalities showing Picasso’s natural skill and dexterity in the unfamiliar medium. Executed in only two states (of which Baer cites only one known impression of the first state), the etching possesses a remarkable confidence and fluency in the medium that belies Picasso’s lack of formal training in printmaking.
The emaciated state of the couple can be seen in their elongated hands and chiselled features that recall the Mannerist elements of El Greco’s work. The deeply bitten etched lines highlight the physical contact between them. This tender and poignant scene depicts human intimacy as well as melancholic introspection. There is an overall unity of balance, proportion and rhythm to the composition, through the grouping of the figures and objects, the balance of light and dark tones, and the rhythmic quality of the lines. Although the figures are united in a tender embrace, their stance is also one of emotional separation. Ambiguously, the woman’s direct gaze to the viewer and knowing smile contrasts with that of her partner, whose head is turned away from her. The slim, attenuated bodies and telling gestures embody universal loneliness and quiet isolation that transcends time and place.
The woman in the print is a portrait of the enigmatic Madeleine, Picasso’s lover at the time (figs. 1 and 2). The man seated next to her is a figure that first appears in his work from Barcelona in 1903, in the form of a few sketches, a gouache and the large painting Le Repas de l’aveugle (fig. 3). Both Madeleine and this blind man, with their gaunt features, would recur throughout Picasso’s art in different guises until 1905. While Madeleine’s place would be taken by Fernande Olivier, the blind man (and his alter ego, the Minotaur) would haunt Picasso’s imagination and be embodied in his personal mythology, as Sir Roland Penrose explains: 'The allegory of the blinded man has pursued Picasso throughout his life like a shadow as though reproaching him for his unique gift of vision' (R. Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, London, 1981, p. 89).
Le Repas frugal is the first print that Picasso made after moving to Paris for good, at a time when his financial situation was troubling and he was struggling to make money. Probably encouraged by his friends and fellow Spaniards Ricardo Canals and Joan González, he turned to printmaking as a source of income and used a large zinc plate that had previously been worked on by González (the brother of the sculptor Julio González) since he could not afford the more expensive copper plate that would normally be used. One sees ghostly traces of a landscape left by González that can be seen in the upper half of the work, adding an ethereal layer to the composition. With only rudimentary guidance from Canals, he took on the challenge of creating this large-scale etching. The work was eventually exhibited for the first time in early 1905 at Galerie Serrusier in Paris, along with a few later etchings that capture the start of his Rose Period.
It is not clear exactly how many early impressions were pulled in 1904-05 but Geiser and Baer suggest about thirty were printed by Eugène Delâtre, before the plate was sold to Picasso’s art dealer, Ambroise Vollard, in 1911. Only a handful of these impressions appear to have survived. Most of these are in public institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Musée Picasso in Paris, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. After acquiring the plate, Vollard reinforced it with a process known as ‘steel-facing’: a method of electroplating the plate with a thin layer of steel which can withstand the pressure of subsequent printings. This process allows for the production of a larger number of impressions but the etched lines lose depth and definition and print less strongly. In 1913 Vollard published Le Repas frugal in an edition of about 27 on Japan paper and a larger edition of 250 on Van Gelder wove paper. Before steel-facing the plate, a few proofs – including the present impression – were most likely printed by Louis Fort. These are rare and highly sought-after as they display the full graphic effects, nuances in tone and three-dimensionality that Picasso had originally intended, of which this present work is an exceptional example.
Fig. 1, Pablo Picasso, Femme à la chemise, 1905, oil on canvas, Tate Modern, London
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Femme au casque de cheveux, 1904, gouache on board, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso, Le Repas de l’aveugle, 1903, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York