It’s been almost 60 years since the National Gallery in Ottawa last exhibited all 100 prints in Pablo Picasso’s Vollard Suite.
Perhaps the master’s most celebrated series of etchings, the suite, named after Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), Picasso’s early dealer and publisher, was purchased by a savvy NGC in 1957 and displayed to the public shortly thereafter. Individual prints and grouplets thereof have been exhibited since then, but never the complete set.
The NGC rectifies the lacuna Friday when it presents all 100 prints in an exhibition running through Sept. 5. The suite, commissioned in 1930 by Vollard, who “paid” Picasso in paintings by Cézanne and Renoir, was completed in 1937. However, printing the estimated 300 or so sets wasn’t done until 1939, by which time Vollard was dead and the Second World War in full swing. It was only in the mid-1950s that the sets finally were distributed, the NGC being one of the few museums in the world to acquire the entire ensemble.
While all the etchings are rendered in Picasso’s neoclassical style, none has a title nor is there a particular sequence or narrative or overarching theme. Rather, the suite is more a free-ranging diary of Picasso’s artistic, mythological and erotic obsessions, as well as an exploration of the spectrum of etching techniques.