Multiple emotions caught in Picasso’s playful etchings


If the artist is a receptacle for emotions, as Pablo Picasso once said, then the series of etchings by Picasso currently on display at Wentworth Gallery are an outpouring of the legendary artist’s collection of feelings.

The etchings are part of a larger series that Picasso completed towards the end of his life. The collection is called Suite 347 because in 1968, at age 86, Picasso completed 347 etchings in a seven-month period.

All of the pieces in the series are handmade etchings. Etching is a form that entails drawing in depressed lines on a metal plate. Paper is then pressed on the plate order to make a print. In addition to drawing the etchings, Picasso worked closely with the printmakers, brothers Piero and Aldo Crommelynck, to ensure quality work.

Picasso’s rapid production of the Suite 347 collection can be attributed to the loss of his long-time friend, Catalan poet Jaime Sabartes, who died in 1968. After Sarbarte’s death, Picasso spun into a creative frenzy, making up to three etchings a day.

Picasso, perhaps faced with his own mortality, used the collection as a retrospective of his life. In the paintings he often depicted one of his biggest influences, Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn. In addition, the pieces feature Dora Maar, a long-time lover of Picasso’s. Maar was a photographer who had an affair with Picasso from 1934 until 1943. During that time she chronicled Picasso’s completion of “Guernica,” one of his best-known works.

Picasso’s personal life is evident throughout that collection but eroticism is another reoccurring them. Picasso never shied away from painting nudes and that is never more apparent than in the Suite 347 collection. Although the artist was well into his 80s when he completed the series, he depicted the naked human form explicitly in the collection, but always did it with a wry, almost raunchy sense of humor, gallery director Serena Curran said.

The collection overall has a playful tone. Picasso etched with such ease that the pieces could be mistaken for illustrations; however, the Suite 347 series is a culmination of Picasso’s extensive experience working in the graphic arts.

Although he was known for his sculptures and paintings, Picasso was more productive in printmaking than any other medium. The artist spent a total of seven decades producing etchings.

The Wentworth Gallery has only four etchings on hand, but the work has caught the attention of members of the La Jolla community, Curran said.

The Suit 347 series is unique because there were 50 copies made of each of the 347 etchings, yet Picasso signed each print, including the pieces on sale at the Wentworth Gallery.

“We get people who come in who are awed the pieces were actually signed by Picasso,” Curran said.

Picasso’s work on display at Wentworth Gallery is special because a lot of work sold from Picasso’s estate didn’t have his signature, Curran said. The pieces in the Suite 347 collection were never given names by Picasso, but were labeled by number.

All of the works on sale at Wentworth Gallery are unique, but the etches depicting Maar and Rembrandt are particularly interesting because they are rooted in Picasso’s personal life. In addition, the work is very intricate. For example, “B.1526” depicts Rembrandt and a woman, but Rembrandt’s face has many lines inscribed on it that look like tattoos or makeup.

All four pieces on sale at Wentworth are priced from $19,000 to $22,000.

Curran said the gallery has not had any offers but she is confident all the work will sell soon.

The gallery, 1025 Prospect St., sees the most patrons during the summer months, but the onset of fall hasn’t deterred Curran’s optimism.

“These pieces are rare,” Curran said. “They are all hand-done and some of Picasso’s most seminal work.”