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Anne Henry
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Published: 7 April 2017

Setting the Stage: Picasso Theater

After His Blue Period, the Ballet…
At the early part of the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso collaborated with the Ballets Russes founder Sergei Diaghilev and choreographer Léonide Massine, lending his Cubist vision to the design of costumes, stage sets, and curtains for innovative productions that include Parade, Le Tricorne, and Pulcinella. Between 1917 and 1924—what has come to be known as his “Theater Years”— Picasso traveled from Paris to Barcelona, London, and Rome with Diaghilev, immersing himself fully in the world of the famous ballet company, even marrying dancer Olga Khokhlova in 1918.

Picasso’s long fascination with the theater and performers was not just limited to the ballet. His 1904 painting, The Actor, and the larger, Family of Saltimbanques from 1905, focus on the curious, though often bleak, world of circus performers. Picasso drew inspiration from the Cirque Medrano, a famous establishment in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris where he lived and worked. 

His lifelong experimentation with the human form found new media in his creations of ballet costumes and stage designs that, in turn, allowed Picasso to channel new perspectives and creativity into his later works.

…And From the Ballet to a Book
“Picasso Theatre” is a draft of the final design that illustrated the cloth-bound cover of the first edition book of the same name, originally published in 1968. A second printing in 1987 used a different cover design, and did not include a clear acetate cover wrap emblazoned with the title. The book, prepared by British art historian Douglas Cooper and dedicated to the artist, is a collection of images of Picasso’s lesser-known works for the theater, specifically the ballet, as well as an essay on the significant influence the theater had on the artist’s oeuvre.

An exhibition of items from Picasso’s theater years was staged at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 1998, and several pieces, including the curtain from the 1924 ballet, Mercure, are in the collection of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. According to the Picasso Authentication Committee, also in Paris, which provided authentication for Picasso Theatre, other drafts the artist created for the cover are held in the collection of the Musée d’art et d’histoire de Saint-Denis.

An India ink, wash and chalk work on paper, “Picasso Theatre” is signed, dated, and dedicated on what the artist intended to be the spine of the book—the center strip that separates two haunting and expressive drawings. 

This work has remained in the same private collection for the past two decades and will make its return to the market as the highlight of Freeman’s May 16 Modern & Contemporary Art auction. 

Register to Bid

Contact a specialist for more information:

Anne Henry, Vice President | Senior Specialist
267.414.1220 | ahenry@freemansauction.com

Dunham Townend, Department Head
267.414.1221 | dtownend@freemansauction.com

To be offered 05/16/2017: Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) "Picasso Theatre.” Estimate: $150,000-$250,000.

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