DescriptionPABLO PICASSO (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Le Repas Frugal (from La Suite des Saltimbanques), 1904
Etching on Van Gelder Zonen wove paper
17-7/8 x 14-1/2 inches (45.4 x 36.8 cm)
From the edition of 250
Published by Ambroise Vollard, Paris
Private collection, Indiana
In 1904, at the age of twenty-two, Picasso had just begun to experiment with the medium of printmaking when he undertook what was to be one of the most indelible images of his long and influential artistic career. The technical expertise of Picasso as a draftsman is strikingly evident in the line quality and compositional choices that he makes in this remarkable first attempt at an etching.
The large-format zinc plate of Le Repas Frugal had previously been used by the artist Joan Gonzalez, elder brother of the sculptor Julio. And even though Picasso had scraped the plate clean, remnants of reeds, water and rocks provide a delightful texture to the background of the composition, particularly at the top and along the right-hand side.
These details are even more visible with the steel-plate reinforcement of the second printing in 1913, a technique used to prolong the use of the plate for multiple printings. Along with the technical changes made to the plate, Picasso chose to briefly revisit the composition, adding definition to the man's arm and some hatching to the background. The Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard then published the engraving along with fourteen others, commonly known as the Suite des Saltimbanques (although one plate was damaged and hence the majority of the proofs destroyed).
The angular couple depicted is engaged in a somewhat tenuous embrace as their gazes point away from one another. Their body language informs the viewer more about solitude and estrangement, rather than the communal warmth of a shared meal. The tangle of their wiry arms and shoulders leads us into the folds of their clothes and then down into the lines of the tablecloth. The simple accoutrements of the wine bottle and glasses, plate and bread that lie upon the table may reference the genre of the still life and the café culture of the previous decades, while at the same directing our gaze back to the figures, absorbed in their loneliness.
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