Call Me Pablo & Etch Me A Love Affair 01 April 2018

For the first time ever, Pablo Picasso travels to Malta with a suit(e)case of a hundred etchings that were once created for a man named Ambroise Vollard. Their destination? The Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta to rendez-vous with another Spaniard named Joan Miró, perhaps you’ve heard of him too.

Pablo Picasso’s Vollard Suite is a series of etchings produced between 1930 and 1937 and commissioned by Ambroise Vollard, one of Paris’ leading avant-garde art dealers and print publishers at the time. The suite offers an on-going change and metamorphosis that eludes any final resolution, and even though most of its themes can be found elsewhere in Picasso’s vast oeuvre, on returning to them, the artist instilled them with richer meaning. The hundred prints have no particular chronological order but explore a variety of themes that can be read as narrative cores; from classicism to eroticism, the sculptor and his studio, an homage to master- etcher Rembrandt van Rijn, his deep obsession with the minotaur and finally, his passionate affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter.

Picasso and Marie-Thérèse met by chance one day in 1927 on the streets of Paris whilst she was shopping at the Galeries Lafayette. The story goes that Picasso commented on her interesting face, and asked if he would be able to do a portrait of her. A singular beauty, Marie- Thérèse was young, blonde, with an unusual, Grecian profile and instantly consumed by the man in front of her. She had absolutely no idea who Picasso was back then and this alone might have perhaps been a determining spark to their destined flame as she quickly became Picasso’s model and muse. Marie-Thérèse allows us to see Picasso’s ability to project himself within someone and bring out something else, as he sways between his own personality and hers, weaving the rival claims of making art and making love. Understanding a Picasso ‘portrait’ is also understanding how he utilises the language of different media, for he was capable of bringing out both the material and immaterial qualities of his medium; Picasso the painter, the sculptor, the etcher, all in a dance to find out which one can create a better Marie-Thérèse. She is however not a narrative core that leads us somewhere, but is presented to us as a character, and her very essence is brought to life. Her flesh, bones, blood, are brought to life in a way that allow us, the audience, to really connect with her, with love and ultimately with Picasso.

The model and muse are dealt with ad nauseam in The Vollard Suite. However, Picasso imbues delicious nuances of desire by creating distance with the model, who is of course always Marie- Thérèse. This creates a dormant eroticism, a sensuality that becomes more and more explicit and violent in the prints dedicated to The Battle of Love, and in some dedicated to the Minotaur

The Vollard Suite can ultimately be described as an allegory of the relationship between the artist and his muse but more importantly, between the artist and himself, and where the conflict of creation must be resolved. Throughout the suite we feel an underlying sense of this relationship with the self, with his art, his flesh and spirit, for in his own words; “it is not what the artist does that counts, but what he is.”

Picasso and Miró: The Flesh and The Spirit is a unique opportunity to explore and experience The Vollard Suite side by side with paintings by another Spanish master of the twentieth century, Joan Miró. The exhibition forms part of the international project Picasso- Méditerranée, an initiative from the Musée Picasso in Paris focussed on Picasso’s relationship with the Mediterranean and featuring the participation of 60 museums between 2017 and 2019. It will run between the 7th April and 30th June 2018 at The Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta.

This entry was published in the Air Malta in-flight magazine, Il-Bizzilla, for the month of May 2018.

Written by Sarah Chircop