Picasso was only in his early 20s, living in Montmartre at the Bateau-Lavoir, when the Saltimbanques Suite entered the history of printmaking. This famous series of 14 etchings and drypoints marks the passage from Picasso’s Blue period to his Rose Period. The Repas Frugal, the most popular and strongest image in this series, was only the second work produced by the artist in the field of printmaking. Executed at the end of Picasso’s Blue period it constitutes one of the most important prints in the graphic oeuvre of the artist. It distinguishes itself from the thirteen other etchings, which feature circus performers and mark the beginning of the Rose period, by depicting a destitute couple sharing a dishearteningly meagre meal of bread and wine. Picasso’s own poverty and poor living conditions at this time probably prompted him to reuse a copper plate that had been previously etched by his friend Joan Gonzales; the ghostly traces of Gonzales’s landscape can be seen in the upper part of the Repas Frugal. The theme depicted is filled with melancholy, the emotion heightened by the elongated proportions derived from El Greco and the effect of light and shadow. The suite was printed in a small edition by Eugène Delâtre and offered for sale by the dealer Clovis Sagot. Relatively few of this initial production seem to have survived and even fewer have remained in private collections. The publisher Ambroise Vollard acquired the plates in 1911 and had them steel-faced, to reduce the wear on the plates during the printing process, and pulled by Louis Fort in 1914 in an edition of 27 or 29 on Japan paper. An edition of 250 was also printed on Van Gelder, of which the set presented here is a fine example.
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