IN A major coup, the Art Gallery of Ballarat is the only Victorian stopover in the national tour of Picasso: The Vollard Suite.
On loan from the National Gallery of Australia, the free exhibition is showing in Ballarat from February 23 until April 28.
The Vollard Suite consists of 100 intaglio prints made by Pablo Picasso between 1930 and 1937 in Paris and at the Château de Boisgeloup. It is regarded as one of the greatest print suites — and perhaps the most enigmatic and famous — of the 20th century.
Although executed over a seven-year period, the majority of the plates date from 1933. This was when modern art dealer and print publisher Ambroise Vollard commissioned Picasso to make the 100 plates in exchange for a selection of French Impressionist paintings from his private collection.
It is thought Vollard’s original intentions had been to use the works to illustrate a lavish livre d’artiste (artist’s book) and he enlisted master printer Roger Lacourière to edition the works in preparation for publication. However, following Vollard’s death in a 1939 car accident and the subsequent outbreak of World War II, the editioned prints were left unpublished.
At the time of their creation, Picasso inscribed the date and place of creation on the plates but neither assigned titles nor, following Vollard’s death, did he ever specify how the prints should be issued. It was when the 100 prints were finally released to the public in the early 1950s that they became widely referred to as the Vollard Suite.
In the mid 1950s, art historian Hans Bollinger devised an order for arranging the Vollard Suite that continues to influence how the 100 prints are interpreted and exhibited. By choosing not to follow the strict chronological sequence in which Picasso produced the plates, Bollinger identified seven themes running through the suite —The Plates, Battle of Love (Rape), Rembrandt, The Sculptor’s Studio, The Minotaur, The Blind Minotaur, and Portraits of Ambroise Vollard. Explored throughout are the enduring themes of history and creativity, ambition and achievement, fear and immortality, moral and physical fallibility, male sexuality and obsession.
The National Gallery of Australia is one of the few cultural institutions in the world to hold the complete suite of 100.