Following its successful opening phase, the Museum Brandhorst
is now holding its first public exhibition: Picasso Artists Books. With an exemplary selection of works, a section of the collection that has not been exhibited to date in the Museum Brandhorst is now accessible to the public. With a few exceptions, the exhibited works are on loan from the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München.
Picasso was one of the most inventive and prolific artists of the 20th century and the genre of the artists book is no exception. Between 1905 and 1973, his original graphic works, i.e. etchings, lithographs and linocuts etc., were used to illustrate more than 150 books. The most important are now being displayed in the Museum Brandhorst. The new show was preceded in 1996 by exhibitions at the museums of modern art in Basel and Bonn, as well as the exemplary presentation of the Udo and Anette Brandhorst collection in 2000, as part of Food for the Mind in the Haus der Kunst in Munich. With just over 100 books with original graphic works by Picasso, the Brandhorst Collection has one of the most comprehensive bodies of works in this field.
Some 85 artists books by Picasso are on display. They demonstrate Picassos lively interest in literature, the range of authors stretching from Antiquity (Aristophanes, Ovid, Pindar), to the 19th century (Honoré de Balzac, Prosper Mérimée, Leo Tolstoy) and into the 20th century, where the emphasis lies on contemporary French literature. Picassos first illustrations were for poems by André Salmon (1905), soon followed at the request of his friend, the poet Max Jacob (18761944) by Cubist etchings for the books Saint Matorel (1911) and Le Siège de Jérusalem (1914), both published by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. In 1917, 1918 and 1919 further publications by Max Jakob appeared with etchings by Picasso. Over the decades to follow Picasso worked on projects with other authors such as Pierre Reverdy, André Breton, Tristan Tzara, Georges Hugnet, Benjamin Péret, Paul Éluard, René Char, Antonin Artaud and Michel Leiris. Many books with original graphic works by Picasso are the result of suggestions made by the publishers themselves. In this context, Ambroise Vollard who undoubtedly gave the decisive impulse for the momentous and immensely productive development of the genre of the artists book is particularly noteworthy. He stands out especially when the extraordinarily lively tradition in France is examined. Other important figures include Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who enforced Cubism internationally, as well as Christian Zervos, Albert Skira, and not forgetting Pierre André Benoit, who brought out some 500 artists books in all, 17 of which with Picasso. Iliazd, who was passionate about publishing and was always on the lookout for the most exquisite Japanese paper and special materials for covers, also plays an outstanding role. In many cases unique works of art were created magnificent products that are proof of the mutual cooperation between artists and publishers, typographers, printers and bookbinders. However, there is another side to things that shows us how Picasso occasionally simply sent in any work from his portfolio of works on paper irrespective of the type of text the publisher wanted to combine it with. The fact that pecuniary interests always played a role as well and that some illustrations served to promote the sales of a book by a young, barely successful author is obvious and has been confirmed by various authors who were close to the artist.
What is striking in all publications for which Picasso showed a strong interest and had read himself, is the fact that the painter virtually never depicts what happens in the text, as classical illustrators would normally do, but largely removes his figurative scenes from those of the book and puts their own independent or even autonomous character in the foreground. This can be seen not least of all in the fact that certain subjects recur throughout the whole complex of more than 800 works on paper in the more than 150 books (that represent no less than 40% of his complete graphic output). The subject of the artist and his model appears time and again, as do erotic scenes or reflections on growing old and life passing by. Nevertheless, Picasso demonstrates an extraordinary, innovative richness in the variations of his favourite motifs and this encloses in many cases experiments or even inventions of new printing techniques. His unstilled curiosity and inexhaustible creative energy, as well as his impatience, often showed him unusual ways so that the books that Picasso illustrated with etchings or lithographs are of a standard that is way above anything comparable in the 20th century.
The loose correlation between text and graphic work, or the obvious lack of any connection, are in contrast to a lesser number of works in which Picasso depicts what the author actually describes. This is especially true in Ovids Metamorphoses that Albert Skira published in 1931 the relative legibility of the pictures probably being due to the fact that half of the print run was produced for the American market.
Picasso was fascinated by all conceivable facets to do with artists books. His graphic works can be found in books by Max Jacob, Paul Eluard, Tristan Tzara, Pierre Reverdy and many others. Picasso worked together with major publishers and art dealers (Ambroise Vollard, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Iliazd, Pierre-André Benoit, Crommelynck, et al.) and of course also with the best printers of the day (such as Mourlot, Lacourière, Frélaut). Generally speaking, the typical print run of such specially produced publications was between 2 and 20 signed and numbered copies.