Picasso and the artist’s books

The work and the interest of Pablo Picasso for the publishing world is a field which is not explored much and one which brings up numerous surprises, both in the field of current publishing, and more especially in that of bibliophiles. It is in this field, obviously, where we find the most personal projects.


Inside the catalogue raisonné of books illustrated by Picasso: Brigitte Baer, Picasso, peintre graveur: vol. 3. Berna, Kornfeld, 1986

The catalogue raisonné of the books illustrated by Pablo Picasso –published by the gallery owner Patrick Cramer in 1983– lists one hundred and fifty-six titles. Behind each of these titles we can find the intrinsic complexity of team projects. If we flick through this catalogue, we will discover that the first project was from 1905, a book of poems by André Salmon, with a drypoint by Picasso from that same year, and the last one (during Picasso’s lifetime) was in 1972 (some months before the death of the artist, on April 5th 1973), La Chute d’Icare, with texts by Jean Leymarie and published by Albert Skira.


Presenting at the museum library books illustrated by Picassoas part of Arts Libris 2015

The journey through these one hundred and fifty-six titles is a voyage through sixty-eight years of creative work. We can discover a whole constellation of writers -essentially poets-, of publishers, of printers and typographers that throughout those years of joint work would excel in each of their tasks. A complexe mix of talents forged together also by friendship, by affinities and complicity: writers who were friends, such as André Salmon, Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, Pierre Reverdy, Paul Éluard; publishers such as Albert Skira, Iliazd and the highly versatile  Pierre-André Benoît (also known as P.A.B.); printers such as Paul Fort, the Lacourière workshop or the Crommelynck workshop; printers of lithographs such as the workshop of the brothers Mourlot; master typographers such as Paul Birault, Aimé Jourde, or the workshop of Fequet et Baudier, etc. All these liaisons build a precise portrait of a place, Paris, at a moment in the history of European art, the first half of the twentieth century.

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Presenting at the museum library books illustrated by Picasso as part of Arts Libris 2015. In this case the book is La barre d’appui by Paul Éluard

Within the framework of the trade fair Arts Libris 2015, the Museu Picasso of Barcelona joined the programme of institutional activities based on the books by the artist with two presentations in the library, on April 21st and 22nd. For these sessions, three illustrated books by Pablo Picasso from the collection of the museum were chosen, which had been produced during three moments of his artistic career: 1936, La barre d’appui, by Paul Éluard; 1955, À haute flamme, Tristan Tzara; 1966, Sable mouvant, by Pierre Reverdy.

The three books have in common that they are poems written by friends from the intimate circle of Pablo Picasso and that each of them is a very personal work of the artist.

La barre d’appui is a collection of eight poems dedicated to Nush Éluard. The publication was done by Cahiers d’Art, the publisher of Christian and Yvonne Zervos. The typography was charged to the master-printer Aimé Jourde, of Paris, and Roger Lacourière was responsible for the prints. The print run was of 40 copies, and antique Japanese paper with flower petals and visible vegetable fibres was used. The book contains three prints by Picasso. One of the curiosities of this book is that Picasso printed the illustrations on a large plate that afterwards was cut into four parts. Jaume Sabartés explains this in his book of memoires, Picasso, portraits and souvenirs:

Portada La barre d’appuiMPB 70.247

Cover of the book La barre d’appui by Paul Eluard | Pablo Picasso. Four compositions for: La barre d’appui. Paris, early june, 1936. Sugar lift aquatint and drypoint on copper plate, printed on paper. 31.7 x 21.6 cm (plate);  41,8 x 31,6 cm (sheet). Gift of Jaume Sabartés, 1962. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 70.247

“At the beginning of June, while occupying the plates of Buffon, he carried out another three to illustrate an edition of 40 copies of La barre d’appui (poems by Paul Éluard), printed on antique Japanese paper.  The printing date of this work was June 5th.  Picasso took a copper plate of 215 x 315 mm, divided it in four equal parts, tracing two lines in the form of a cross and set about filling the first rectangle with a very complicated composition. Next to it, he sketched the portrait of Nush and in no time at all he was drawing in the third one a head of a sleeping woman, in the foreground, and a landscape in the background. As there remained a space free in the fourth part of the plate, he covered the palm of his hand in ink and applied it to the copper. Before cutting the plate into four parts 18 copies of the aquatint were printed, which grouped together the three illustrations and the palm print of the author.”

À haute flamme by Tristan Tzara, tackles the traumatic experience of the Nazi occupation of Paris. A member of the Resistance, Tzara abandoned Paris on June 11th 1940; after visiting Max Jacob in Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire he joined a large group of people who moved southwards. The group was machine-gunned by a plane. Thirteen years later, Tristan Tzara relived that event in a text about the horrors of the war.

Portada À haute flamme

Cover of the book À haute flamme by Tristan Tzara

The book was self-published and included six chiseled engravings on celluloid. The print run was of 70 copies on antique Japanese paper. The typography was carried out by Raymond Jacquet, Paris, and the prints were charged to Georges Visat.

The last book presented, Sable mouvant, was written in 1959 and it is the last poem by Pierre Reverdy. René Char suggested his participation in an anthology of a dozen poets that were to be illustrated by Jacques Villon. The project was never carried out, and the text by Reverdy ended up not being published during the poet’s lifetime, as he died in 1960. Picasso agreed to collaborate in the publication in the form of a posthumous homage to his friend. This was a book in large format (50 x 40 cm) with ten aquatints also in large format by Picasso.

Portada Sable Mouvant

Cover of the book Sable mouvant by Pierre Revendy

The publication was cared by Louis Broder and ended up being printed on October 25th 1966, the 85th birthday of Pablo Picasso. The text and the typography was the work of the workshop of Fequet et Baudier. The print run was of 255 copies of vellum paper from the Brand of Rives with the watermark “LB”.


Showing the illustrations of La barre d’appui by Paul Éluard as part of Arts Libris 2015

In these two sessions we were able to see the three originals in detail and to also talk about the difficulty of exhibiting artists’ books. We dealt with several questions related to the publishing of artists’ books and the importance of the team work in each of these projects and in choosing every single aspect: the size of the object, the paper, the typography, and the cadences of the illustrations.

Two sessions that have allowed us to share the common interest in the artist’s books and also to share the pleasure of taking a close look at three works of Picasso of great beauty.

Margarida Cortadella

Related links
Pablo Picasso, the illustrated books catalogue raisonné  – Patrick Cramer
Picasso peintre-graveur catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre gravé et lithographié et des monotypes – Brigitte Baer

1 Comment
  • Aitor Quiney
    February 26, 2016

    Moltes gràcies, Margarida, per explicar-nos aquestes tres meravelles!

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