Picasso was a old fan of the work of the great French realist dramatist and 19th-century author Honoré de Balzac.
He repeatedly alluded to these playwright and novels during his career and even rented an apartment in Paris that was the setting for the author’s 1845 novel “The Unknown Masterpiece”.
In 1954, aware of the artist’s wonder in Balzac, the publisher Tériade commissioned a series of illustrations by Picasso portraying scenes from the writer’s greatest work, “La Comédie Humaine”.
La Comédie Humaine is a monumental collection of 137 interconnected short stories, novels and essays depicting life in post-revolutionary Bourbon France and dealing with themes such as money, power, social progress, motherhood, fatherhood and women, society and sex.
The stories take place in several different locations, but some characters are connected and appear in more than one story. Tériade dedicated an entire issue of Verve revye to Picasso’s response to that work. v
Picasso created a series of 180 drawings and 12 color lithographs in colored pencils to interpret the stories of La Comédie Humaine. For the printing, Picasso used expertise of Atelier Mourlot, a famous lithography studio in Paris, where the prints were produced under the leading of the artist, in a limited edition of 1,500.
It was a painstaking procedure, with new blocks made by hand for each colour of the lively drawing, Now the lithographs are wonderfully spontaneous despite the technical work involved in making them. vvv
The model featured in La Comédie Humaine has a distinct “Greek” profile and long hair swept back, strikingly similar to Jacqueline Roque, whom Picasso met in December 1953. v
Jacqueline, who later became Picasso’s wife and eventual muse is represented as a sphinx-like presence. The physique and the power of their relationship is translated in these drawings with a tenderness that is both pure and seductive.
A thematic analysis of the series shows not only how central the theme and the model was to Picasso’s “Human Comedy”, but also how Picasso was able to connect that theme specifically to the questioning of old age and his own retardation.
Karen L. Kleinfelder notes in her book “The Artist, His Model, Her Image, His Gaze: Picasso’s pursuit of the Model” that La Comédie Humaine appears to be a parody of Picasso’s 1933 series of Vollard etchings, in which the artist is cast as classical sculptor at the height of his powers.
But finding twenty years later that the idealized artist god has shrunk and shows his age in all too humanly. v
Kleinfelder concludes her commentary as follows: “It is the adoption of parody in his style and personal perspective that marks La Comédie Humain as the true beginning of Picasso’s late period, when he begins to face both his myth and his historical identity.
With bittersweet drawings, Picasso, self-consciously, thematizes the artist’s late style and begins to confront both his own myth and historical identity, albeit always covertly.
I am proud to present these lithographs.
They all come with a letter of authentication an valuation.