Sérénade au Coucher du Soleil dans un Sous-Bois à la Monet
Sérénade au Coucher du Soleil dans un Sous-Bois à la Monet (Bloch 1827)

1968 (October 5, Mougins)

Sugarlift aquatint printed on vélin de Rives 
From the Suite 347 (Plate 347), edition of 50 
Signed by the artist in pencil, lower right
Numbered 38/50 in pencil, lower left
Picasso inventory number inscribed '15348' upper left verso, in pencil
Printed by Crommelynck
Published by Galerie Louise Leiris, 1969
Image: 9  x 12 3/4 inches
Sheet: 14 1/4 x 18 1/2 inches
Framed: 19 1/8 x 22 5/8 inches
(Bloch 1827) (Baer 1844.B.b)

Sérénade au coucher du soleil dans un sous-bois à la Monet  belongs to the series of Picasso’s etchings created during 1968 known as the 347 series. Of these, Brigitte Baer writes that they are: ‘filled with the creative joy of making. The economy with which Picasso manipulates his sugar-lift aquatint, ridding it of its heavy, flat and – one might say – rather lifeless quality by greasing the copper and producing a droplet-like texture in some parts enables the artist to play with light and shade without varying the strength of the black. See for instance … the positively devilish rendering of Impressionist painting in … Bloch 1827, obtained almost entirely by crushing the end of a brush (probably a Chinese calligraphic brush) on the greased copper plate.’ (Brigitte Baer, ‘Seven Years of Printmaking: The Theatre and its Limits’ in Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, Tate Gallery, London 1988, p.99.)   

 

The leafy landscape scene depicted in this late etching is a rare topic for Picasso. In her catalogue raisonné of Picasso’s prints, Baer notes of this image that it would seem to recall one of Poussin’s undergrowth landscapes, treated with wash, but the guitarist is dressed en rapin (like a poor painter), in the style of La Bohème (Brigitte Baer, Picasso Peintre-Graveur, Tome VI, Kornfeld Editions, Bern 1994, p.579). However, she notes equally that Picasso had an undated postcard showing a black-and-white representation of Albrecht Altdorfer’s Saint George and the Dragon of 1510 that is in the collection of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. While Picasso’s composition has been worked in the opposite direction from Altdorfer’s – ie. in landscape in contrast to the German master’s portrait format – she suggests that Altdorfer’s intricately worked trees could have provided a kind of aide-mémoire for Picasso when he was thinking of a landscape scene. Altdorfer’s painting is notable for the domination of nature over its protagonists who are small details in the lower part of an overwhelmingly leafy landscape, and it is tempting to see Picasso’s two small figures emerging or disappearing into the texture of leaves in this light. However, Picasso’s image is relieved by areas of white in the sky and to the left of the figures behind the trunks of two trees, giving a far greater sense of openness than Altdorfer’s almost uniformly densely textured and somewhat closed-in image. This sense returns him to a comparison with his old friend Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), whose classical landscape scenes generally demonstrate a harmonious balance between the dark texture of foliage on the one hand and a broad pale open sky on the other, visible through the use of wide perspectives and long vision. Picasso’s etching in contrast has the small-scale intimacy of an Altdorfer, although without his minute attention to detail. As is fitting for his era, Picasso created an almost photographic sense of textured detail through the use of pioneering techniques. Here crushing the end of a brush on the greased surface of the copper plate has yielded the finely dappled patterning of vegetation viewed slightly out-of-focus, recalling the Impressionist paintings of Claude Monet (1840-1926) who is mentioned in the title.

 

In his late prints even more than in his earlier ones, Picasso is not only telling stories, but he is quoting all the time. Thus, in addition to the references mentioned above, the couple shown in this print recall the comedy of Titian’s paintings of Venus, in particular his Venus and the Lute Player 1565-70 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Venus with an Organist, Cupid and a Small Dog 1550 (Staatliche Museen, Berlin). Both paintings show Venus reclining on a couch, her nakedness on open display to the interested eyes of her accompanying musician whose head is turned away from his instrument towards the female delights beside him, while she appears distracted, looking elsewhere. In this Serenade at Sunset Picasso has inverted this dynamic, making his Venus figure stand, her eyes cast down towards the beau who sits at her feet, his head at the level of her groin and both his instrument and his eyes directed towards her. Although the nude’s arms are crossed modestly over her chest, a single breast peeps out between them like an eye, framed by the lines of her arms and emphasising the voyeurism evoked by this bucolic scene – the voyeurism that is a central theme in Picasso’s late prints, frequently related to the theatre. While the female nude represents the artist’s muse as much as carnal delight, she equally represents his very art-making itself. And as for the bearded musician, Picasso famously credited every man he drew as being his father (the painter) Don José; equally it could be said that his male figures (and also perhaps his female ones) represent an attribute of himself – here in the theatrical guise of a Spanish guitar-player.

 

Sérénade au coucher du soleil dans un sous-bois à la Monet was created in Picasso’s last home in the village of Mougins in the hills above Cannes. Here the Crommelynck brothers Piero (1934-2001) and Aldo (born 1931) installed an etching workshop in 1963 in order to be close to the artist they had first worked with in the Paris studio of Roger Lacourière. At this late stage in his life, Picasso relinquished the process of biting the plate with acid to the Crommelyncks, the better to free himself to the sophisticated development of his engraving techniques. After creating his image on October 5, 1968, Picasso handed the plate to the Crommelyncks who pulled a small number of proofs. The plate was then taken up again and treated with acid the following year for the printing of 77 impressions. Of these, 50 were published in the 347 series by the Louise Leiris Gallery, Paris and the remaining 17 impressions were released as artist’s proofs. This impression is number 38 of the edition of 50 printed on Rives vellum. It is signed in pencil at the lower right corner and numbered at the lower left, also in pencil.