'Bacchanale’ is an aquatint print composed by the esteemed modernist Pablo Picasso. Published by Atelier Crommelynck in Paris under Picasso’s direction and signed by the artist in pencil in the lower margin, the image presents a meditation on ageing and youth. In the composition are three male figures: One sits on the ground and plays an aulos as though conjuring the other two through music and poetry. Of the other two, one is youthful and leans nude against the wall while looking toward the other older, clothed man seated in a chair. Beyond the figures, the architecture and greenery of the villa open up to the blue horizon of the Mediterranean Sea.
'Bacchanale’ is based on an original gouache painting that Picasso executed in Cannes on 22nd June 1956, entitled ‘Le repos du faune,’ and is printed at the same dimensions. Given that Picasso made the composition into an edition of aquatints and because he kept the painting in his personal collection until his death, it is clear that he was particularly pleased with the painting. Picasso likewise borrowed elements of this composition for other prints, such as for the lithograph 'Faune et Marin' of June, 1956 (Bloch 800) and the lithograph 'Scene antique' of the same year (Bloch 801). The original gouache is in a private collection, but was last publicly seen when sold at Sotheby's in London on 26 February 2019.
As the sales team at Sotheby’s discussed, the original painting offers a unique insight into the artist’s mind during the pivotal decade of the 1950s. The decade was framed for Picasso by the repatriation of his works from before 1939 to France, as well as the death of his contemporary and close friend Henri Matisse. Working from the Mediterranean coast of France in the villa La Californie, these events prompted him to look back on the classicism of his earlier career as well as to contemplate his own mortality. The composition of ‘Le repos du faune’ is indeed of the same classicizing idiom as his works executed after World War I, looking to sculptural nude figures within a Mediterranean landscape. It could be compared in subject to his 1923 canvas ‘The Pipes of Pan’ (Musée Picasso, Paris) which likewise arranges two male nudes, one standing in contrapposto while the other plays the pan flute while seated.
Though this aquatint is often called by the title ‘Bacchanale,’ this is something of a misnomer. The central figure playing the aulos does recall the faun and the classical subject of the bacchanal – and the revelry of the bacchanal was a theme Picasso returned to multiple times. Nonetheless, the mood of this work is of distinctly different character. Instead, these three figures seem lost in their own thoughts. Given this, the composition seems to recall the classical iconography of the three ages of man, a subject that Picasso addressed in an earlier gouache from 1942, ‘Nus masculins (Les trois âges de l'homme).’ Since Picasso’s paintings of men can often be read as self-portraits, this composition shows his consideration of ageing, looking back on his youth as his youth looks back on him in a meeting of past and present
Aquatint in colors on BFK Rives laid paper; after original 1956 gouache 'Le repose du faune'
18.5 x 22 inches, plate
22 x 30.13 inches, sheet
signed "Picasso" in pencil, below image, lower right
edition 107/300 in pencil, below image, lower left
blindstamp of publisher Atelier Crommelynck, Paris, lower left
Presented unframed and in as-is condition. Restoration available for additional $1,500. Contact us for framing quote.
Overall fair condition; significant toning to paper on reverse; mat burn on recto; adhered to acidic matboard on face; unfaded colors; full margins; no tears or losses.
Source: Sotheby’s staff, ed. “Pablo Picasso's Mediterranean Dream.” Sotheby’s, 18 February 2019. Lot essay published accompanying the sale of ‘Le repos du faune’ on 26 February 2019, lot 4.