Picasso: Prints Inspired by the Ballets Russes

  • Apr 6, 2008 – Jun 22, 2008
Pablo Picasso, "Pierrot and Harlequin on a Cafe Terrace", c. 1922,
stencil on paper, 8 1/4 x 10 1/2 in. Gift of Etta and Claribel Cone,

It is well known that the Weatherspoon Art Museum has an impressive collection of prints and bronzes by Henri Matisse. A surprise to many is that the Weatherspoon also has a collection of prints by Matisse’s great contemporary, Pablo Picasso. This spring, the Museum’s collection of Picasso prints is coming up from the vault to be shown for the very first time as a group.

As an artist, Picasso is hardly in need of introduction. He was arguably the most influential painter, sculptor and printmaker of the twentieth century. The inventor of Cubism along with his colleague Georges Braque, Picasso innovated with every medium he practiced, which was most of them. Included in Picasso: Prints Inspired by the Ballets Russes are not only examples of his lithography and etching but a portfolio of ten color pochoirs made in the early 1920s.

“Pochoir” is French for silkscreen. This type of print, rarely made today, was once very popular. The process is time-consuming and demanding: for each color, a stencil is made and color is hand applied with a soft brush. This gives the effect of the print looking more like an actual painting.

The Museum’s set of pochoirs was published by Picasso’s dealer of that time, Paul Rosenberg. These prints mimic very closely a series of gouache paintings that Picasso made in 1919–1920 in the South of France. Picasso had been doing work for the famous Ballets Russe, and the Commedia del’Arte (Italian: “play of professional artists”) theatrical themes explored by the Russian Ballet made their way into the prints: we find the characters of Harlequin (a clown) and Pulcinella (the ancestor of Punch). We also find the guitar—the instrument of the wandering troubadour—reconfigured by way of Cubism.

These themes blended with Picasso’s bold, geometric Cubist style of that era. The result are images arresting in color and wildly inventive in composition. Visitors to this exhibition will see how these prints relate to one of Picasso’s masterworks of that time, his Three Musicians of 1923 (MoMA, New York).

Most of the Weatherspoon’s Picassos came to the Museum from the famous Cone sisters, Claribel and Etta. The sisters amassed an enormous collection that today forms the core of the Baltimore Art Museum. In 1950, Etta bequeathed nearly 250 works of art to the fledgling Weatherspoon Art Gallery at UNCG, including a complete set of Picasso pochoirs. The current exhibition is supplemented by other Picassos in the permanent collection, all rarely seen.


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