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(PICASSO, Pablo.) BALZAC, Honoré de.

Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu.

Eaux-fortes originales et dessins gravés sur bois de Pablo Picasso.

Paris, Ambroise Vollard, Éditeur, 1931 Stock Code: 136550
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Limited edition, number 171 of 240 copies printed on Rives paper, from a total edition of 340 copies (of which 65 were printed on imperial japon and signed, and 35 for private distribution and numbered using roman numerals).
In 1926 Picasso was commissioned by the publisher Ambroise Vollard to do a series of illustrations for Balzac's novella Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu. Picasso became obsessed with the novella's theme and plot, which details a painter's determination to create a masterpiece. Picasso executed 13 etchings for the book, etchings that do not illustrate the events of the story, instead dealing with the novel's deeper meaning, especially the various elements of an artist's relationship with their model. Initially he produced 12 etchings, but as a consequence of his loose interpretation, Vollard requested a 13th etching to serve as a table for the original 12, imposing a form of order.
In addition to the etchings, the text is illustrated throughout with other designs by Picasso: 16 pages of dot and line drawings taken from a book of sketches which Picasso drew in Juan-les-Pins in 1924; 4 reproductions of drawings in the classical style, from a series done at Juan-les-Pins in 1926; and 63 wood engravings after drawings in India ink in the curvilinear style of 1925-26. Picasso completed the 13 etched plates and textual illustrations by 1927, but publication was left until 1931 to coincide with the novella's centenary. Vollard took great care with the book, commissioning Aimé Jourde for the text and typography, Louis Fort to print the etchings, and Georges Aubert for the incision of the wood engravings. His friend Albert Bernard wrote the preface. The publication remains widely recognized as among Picasso's finest illustrated books, and indeed arguably among the finest illustrated books of the century. The novella had a lasting impact on Picasso: he was so inspired by the work that in 1935 he moved into 7 Rue des Grands Augustin in Paris, the location of the artist's studio in the story; it was in this building that Picasso painted Guernica, and he remained there until 1955.
"Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu can, in its definitive version, be considered to be Balzac's declaration of aesthetic faith, at least as far as painting is concerned, and his most fervent plea for the cause of art and the artist. Through the character of an old painter named Frehnhofer, who has been working towards the completion of his painting La belle Noiseuse for ten years, Balzac explores the problem of the artist torn between the ecstasies of creation and the quest for perfection in execution" (Catalogue raisonné, p. 60). The novella was first published in the newspaper L'Artiste in 1831. Balzac revised the text various times, firstly for another publication in late 1831 in the third volume of Romans et contes philosophiques, secondly in 1832 in his Contes philosophiques, a third time for publication in 1837 in Études philosophiques (essentially its final form), fourthly for publication in the Comédie humaine in 1846, and then finally in 1847 in Le provincial à Paris.

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Folio. Original unstitched stiff wrappers and loose sheets, as issued, with the original dust jacket and glassine. Housed in a custom green cloth chemise within green cloth slipcase, red morocco labels to spine.


Illustrated throughout by Pablo Picasso, with a further 13 etched plates by the artist loosely inserted with tissue-guards, as issued.


Light rubbing to slipcase. Sporadic very light foxing to contents. A fine copy.


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