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Picasso: The Vollard Suite Exhibition

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by Kat May (subscribe)
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Adelaide welcomes world famous Picasso drawings
Last summer, we were mesmerised by the spectacular 'Colours of Impressionism' exhibition. This summer, the Art Gallery of South Australia brings us a new exhibition of prints of famous Picasso etchings. Collectively, they are known as 'The Vollard Suite'. These original limited edition prints have an interesting story of how they came to be and the history of how far they have travelled.

Picasso, the vollard suite, SA art gallery,
See this famous collection at the SA Art Gallery this summer. Image by Kat Mat.

Picasso, the vollard suite, SA art gallery,
Ambroise Vollard with a painting by Pablo Picasso. Image from

So why does this set of etchings by a famous artist make them so special? Because of the man who commissioned them. Ambroise Vollard, a Parisian art dealer, had given the young 19-year-old Picasso his first break as an artist by staging 64 paintings in his first exhibition in 1901. He had done the same for Cezanne and others in the late 1800s. Considering the event somewhat of a failure and not profitable, he did not do any business with Picasso for another 5 years.

Eventually, Vollard, who had always seen the potential in Picasso, starting buying his work. Later he staged his own exhibitions of the Picasso works for his own profit. He was a shrewd businessman and had a keen eye for talent. He was also a publisher of art prints and books. Vollard, who had started out in life studying law, became the best and highly respected art dealer in Paris, if not Europe. With his knowledge of law, he set up contracts with artists, usually paying them in artworks from his private collection.

Picasso, the vollard suite, SA art gallery,
An original Vollard publication from a French exhibition. Image by Kat May.

The etchings were created by Picasso between 1930-1937. During this time, he was trying to make a living and sell his paintings. Vollard commissioned the 100 etchings with the aim to make sets of prints at a later stage and possibly a book about the artist, but this never happened. Soon after this, as the threat of war approached Europe, Ambroise Vollard, driven by his chauffeur, had a serious car crash on a country road. Vollard's neck was broken and the two were found dead in the vehicle the next day. Now a vast collection of valuable artworks, books, manuscripts and the Picasso etchings lay abandoned in his Paris gallery and home. He was a private person and many things were hidden away. His estate was divided between his brother and his mistress.

With the ravages of another war upon them, many hundreds of his prized artworks were put into hiding for safekeeping by his colleagues. Some were intercepted in transit to America by the British Navy and assuming they belonged to the enemy, sent them to Canada where they were forgotten for years. Hundreds were stashed in a farmhouse in Yugoslavia but then confiscated by their government. Surprisingly, some were discovered in a Parisian bank in 1979.

These discoveries ensued many lengthy court battles for the heirs of the estate. The treasure trove of artworks belonging to Vollard have been lost, found and traded for 80 years. In 2018, Christies Art Auctions sold 30 items of Vollard's collection including pieces by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Aristide Maillol, Maurice Denis, Émile Bernard and Louis Valtat selling for millions each.

Picasso, the vollard suite, SA art gallery,
Image by Kat May

Picasso, the vollard suite, SA art gallery,
A close up of one of Picasso etchings, depicting him as a mythological creature beside his lover. Image by Kat May

It was not until the 1950s that the collection of Picasso etchings were finally printed in a limited run of 300. From then, they became known as the Vollard Suite. Most of the sets were divided and sold off over the years. A very rare complete set of 100 is owned by the Australian National Gallery and this is the one that is here in Adelaide at present with some of the prints.

The etchings reveal the intimate life of Picasso as a middle-aged married man and of him and his lover. They have been grouped into themes. To understand more about the themes, see the Australian National Gallery page here. Picasso portrays himself in some etchings as mythological figures alongside his mistress.

Picasso, the vollard suite, SA art gallery,
The drawing room is set up for visitors to create their own etchings. Image by Kat May.

Pablo Picasso was a significant influence on 20th-century art, creating paintings, sculpture and ceramics, drawings, tapestries, rugs and set design. He died in 1973 aged 92 years, having completed an estimated 50,000 artworks.

Picasso, the vollard suite, SA art gallery,
Take your drawing home or leave it on the gallery wall. Image by Kay May.
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Why? For students and lovers of art history.
When: Open 10am-5pm daily.
Phone: 88207 7000
Where: Art Gallery of SA. Located 1st floor above bookshop at rear of building. You can enter from the side door at left side of building.
Cost: Free entry.
Your Comment
Thanks for the informative article. I enjoyed the drawing room, but find the etching display harder to engage with. Perhaps I need to visit again.
by Jenny Esots (score: 3|1394) 535 days ago
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