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Sotheby's Paris to offer a unique ensemble of engravings by Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso, Tête d’homme au maillot rayé. Soft ground etching. Signed, dedicated ; 1964 ; Richard de Bas laid paper. Est. €8.000/10.000 - $10.500/13.100. Photo: Sotheby's.

PARIS.- On 25 February 2013, Sotheby’s Paris will be offering for auction the Collection of Aldo Crommelynck, Picasso’s printmaker for over twenty years. The sale’s 257 lots pay homage to the diversity and virtuosity of Crommelynck’s work as a printmaker, with prints of great artistic and technical quality bearing witness to his collaboration with many of the leading artists of the 20th century – from Picasso to David Hockney.

All the prints are signed and in pristine condition, most of them final proofs (marked bon à tirer) and/or with dedications. Estimates start from as low as €50 / $70 and rise to €60,000 / $82,000.

Aldo Crommelynck is described by his daughter Corinne Buchet-Crommelynck as a ‘discreet, cultivated and refined gentleman who called himself the artist’s hand – the craftsman at the artist’s service, and always available. He led an extraordinary career, fruitfully collaborating with three generations of artists: Picasso of course, but also Matisse, Masson, Braque, Le Corbusier, Marino Marini…. Some Englishspeaking artists like Richard Hamilton or George Condo even moved to Paris to work specifically with Aldo, and Chuck Close still smiles at the memory of his ‘spit-bite’ aquatint (with Gauloises saliva) – a special Aldo recipe that helped forged his legendary reputation for aquatints. Chuck found his own technique had better results, probably because he smoked…. Aldo was passionate about his job, and a true perfectionist.’

Aldo Crommelynck (1931-2008), one of the most famous printmakers of the 20th century, was born in Belgium, the son of playwright Fernand Crommelynck. The heart of the collection to be offered at Sotheby's is devoted to Pablo Picasso, whom Crommelynck met during his years as an apprentice with Roger Lacourière (1948-55). In 1949 Picasso asked the young apprentice to rework an engraving of his Goat's Skull on the Table, after deeming Lacourière's outlines too flabby. Lacourière preferred to destroy the work rather than correct it, but Aldo managed to convey the white of the gouache – something Lacourière had tried to do by merely leaving the paper blank – and marked his achievement by discreetly signing the engraving with his initials. He promptly became Picasso's preferred printmaker, and helped produce the prints for Tauromaquia and a new version of Picasso's Still Life with Fruit Bowl.

Later, Aldo and his brothers Piero and Milan, in association with the engraver Robert Dutrou, opened their own workshop – first in Paris, then in a former bakery in Mougins so as to be closer to Picasso, where they produced over 700 engravings.

Aldo Crommelynck’s name is associated with the pioneers of various leading artistic movements of the 20th century. Printmakers, writers, draughtsmen, painters, sculptors and architects would call on his virtuoso skill in a technique that gave rise to a whole range of forms and prints. European artists included Joan Miró, André Masson, Jacques Villon, Le Corbusier and A.R. Penck, but Crommelynck’s work also attracted Americans – including such iconic Pop Art figures as Jasper Johns, Jim Dine and Alex Katz. Many, like Donald Sultan or Ronald Brooks Kitaj, moved to Paris.

In 1985 Aldo Crommelynck himself moved to New York, opening a workshop in association with Pace Prints and continuing to work with contemporary American artists. The sale includes the only known original engraved print by Jean-Michel Basquiat, accompanied by its preparatory drawing (Living Sperm, est. €8,000-10,000 – $11,000-13,600*).

In 1989 Aldo Crommelynck’s long and brilliant career was rewarded by the Grand Prix National des Métiers d’Art. In the 1990s he gradually wound down his activity to spend more time on his passion for tree-cultivation.

Engraving enjoyed an upsurge in popularity in the 20th century. Whether on stone or copper, craftsmen scaled new technical peaks to respond to the challenges set by leading artists who, over the course of their stylistic development, contributed to the various techniques. A fortunate combination of circumstances made their encounter with exceptional engravers possible. The artist who played the most important pioneering role in the field was unquestionably Pablo Picasso, who was in contact with most of the leading printmakers.

The sale includes 140 lots by Pablo Picasso, including a complete series of 13 Fumeur colour engravings from 1964 (estimates start at €6,000 - $8,200 per print). Another highlight is the only signed ensemble of the five states before steel-facing of Picasso's Funeral Monument of a Sculptor with his Wife, Heraldic Pigeon & Sculpture, and Bacchantes (est. €60,000-70,000 / $82,000-95,500). A set of 12 engravings (7 etchings and 5 aquatints) illustrates the play The Magnanimous Cuckold by Aldo’s father Fernand Crommelynck (est. €60,000-80,000 / $82,000-109,000).

Several coloured engravings by Joan Miró will be offered, including his 1959 Blue Dog, a print made by Aldo Crommelynck (reproduced on the inside cover of the sale catalogue) after a Miró painting of 1949, and one of 300 numbered proofs on Vélin de Rives (est. €4,000-5,000 / $5,500-6,800).

Le Corbusier will also be featured – he trained as an artist, metalworker and engraver before turning to architecture and as, an artist, liked to create ‘multiple works on paper’ whose subject matter was sometimes less important than how they were produced.

Le Corbusier concentrated mainly on still lifes – a heritage from his Cubist/Machinist period – and it was only during the last three years of his life (1963-65) that he worked with the Crommelynck workshop, producing over thirty copper engravings, including the 1965 album Unité (published by Mazo & Cie). The sale includes 20 colour prints signed by Le Corbusier produced as illustrations for this album, based on pastels dating from 1953 (est. €1,500-2,000 / $2,000-2,700 each).

Apart from Jean-Michel Basquiat, the American artists Crommelynck worked with included Red Grooms, represented in the sale by four prints – notably a Portrait of Aldo Crommelynck, a view of Grand Central in New York and a Café Scene at St-Germain des Prés (estimates €500-800 / $680-1,100 and €400-600 / $550-820).

The collection also includes a fine ensemble of prints by Jim Dine, including four large colour portraits of his wife Nancy dating from 1978-81 (estimates start €1,500 / $2,000 apiece). The Heart Called Paris Spring, a 13-colour aquatint from 1982, symbolizes the friendship between Jim Dine and the Crommelynck workshop, which began in 1976 and culminated in the exhibition Aldo & Moi at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in 2007 (est. €4,000-5,000 / $5,500-6,800).

Finally come two engravings by David Hockney paying tribute to Picasso: Artist & Model (1973), where Hockney shows himself sitting at a table opposite the Catalan master (est. €4,000-5,000 / $5,500-6,800); and The Student: Homage to Picasso (1973), showing him standing with a sketch-book under his arm, gazing at a bust of Picasso (est. €6,000-8,000 / $8,200-11,000).

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