Exhibition: Picasso and Books - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum


2008-09-15 • 2008-11-30

Picasso and Books

Paper Art (VII)

Room 33

At the start of the XX century, graphic art acquired the same standing as original art. At the same time, important engraving workshops prospered in Paris during the first half of the XX century.  Together with the development of printing workshops, a fundamental figure regarding the creation of the concept of a contemporary illustrated book was the publisher. The French dealer and gallery owner Ambroise Vollard (1868−1939) worked together with Picasso on several occasions and was, from 1900 to his death, one of the most prestigious editors of illustrated books. Years later, the outstanding Franco-German writer and dealer Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler (1884−1976) also worked with Picasso.

Throughout his life, Picasso collaborated in a series of limited edition books containing illustrations for the texts of several authors, from Classic authors from different periods such as Petrarch, Góngora and Balzac to contemporary writers such as Surrealists Breton and Tzara. The present exhibition contains 25 of these illustrated books dated between 1923 and 1972 and 108 illustrations related to 8 of them that were selected from illustrations pertaining to the Bancaja Collection.

The books in which Picasso collaborated as an illustrator comprise a compendium of the different ways of illustrating a book in the XX century. Picasso used different techniques ranging from dry point, lithography on stone, zinc plate and autographic paper, etching, aquatint, calcographic engraving, linoleum and celluloid to photoengraving and offset.

On one hand, Picasso executed a series of books that could not strictly be defined as "illustrated" since the illustrations they contained were not graphical representations that were directly related to the text. The books, however, house a tremendous variety of technical resources and all kinds of singularities, such as different qualities and types of paper, different colours for certain illustrations, extra copies of the illustrations, even double-page and full-page illustrations, copies that were not for sale, illustrations that had been done by hand, some of which were even signed by Picasso himself, etc. On the other hand, a second set of books exists in which there is a dialogue between the literary author and Picasso in which the illustrations accompany the text.

This non-homogenous set of books might be classified according to the following diverse criteria:

  • 1.- Pictures for book frontispieces (Clair de terre by André Breton),
  • 2.- Illustrations for books by Classic authors (Le chef-d'oeuvre inconnu by Honoré de Balzac, Vingt poèmes by Luis de Góngora, La Carmen des Carmen by Prospero Merimée and Tauromaquia),
  • 3 - Books of an intended politicalness (Sueño y mentira by Franco),
  • 4 - Books embellished with illustrations by Picasso (Non vouloir by Georges Hugnet),
  • 5.- Books of exchanges with poets and friends (À haute flamme by Tristan Tzara), and
  • 6.- Books on Picasso (Dans l'atelier de Picasso by Jaime Sabartés),

amongst others.

To summarise: the exhibition emphasises the technical mastery and enormous creative variety of Picasso the Engraver, with the added value of doing so from his work in bibliographic editions of outstanding singularity that are little-known by the public.