British Museum gets Picasso etchings after shock £1m donation

15:13 30 November 2011

Portrait of Vollard II, one of 100 Pablo Picasso etchings donated to the British Museum

Portrait of Vollard II, one of 100 Pablo Picasso etchings donated to the British Museum

A surprise email has led to the British Museum in London acquiring a complete set of 100 Picasso etchings not seen in public before.

The etchings - created between 1930 and 1937 - will go on show at the museum next summer.

A fund manager working in the City donated around £1 million to the museum to acquire the prints after an off-the-cuff comment at an event.

The museum’s prints and drawings curator Stephen Coppel said he was “astonished” to receive an email in April from fund manager Hamish Parker telling him that the set of prints would be in the hands of the museum by the end of the year.

Mr Parker made the donation to honour his late father, who was a fan of the museum.

The 100 etchings are known as the Vollard Suite because they were commissioned by Paris art dealer and print publisher Ambroise Vollard, who gave Picasso a Renoir and a Cezanne painting in exchange for the work.

Vollard gave the Spanish artist his first Paris exhibition in 1901.

But Vollard’s death in a car accident, followed by the outbreak of the Second World War, delayed the release of the prints.

Dealer Henri Petiet purchased most of the prints from the Vollard estate.

The British Museum’s set has been acquired from the heirs of Petiet, following a donation by the Hamish Parker Charitable Trust.

The museum already had seven etchings from the Vollard Suite, acquired in 1979.

The donation came about after the curator said at an event that it was his “long-term ambition” to have the complete set.

“Little did I know that I had dropped a seed in Hamish Parker’s head”, Mr Coppel said.

He later received an email, out of the blue, from Mr Parker saying that “if all goes well a complete set with the highest of provenance should be in the department by year’s end.”

The email said: “I’m making this donation in memory of my father who passed away this year.

“Although it might be going too far to suggest that he was a fan of Picasso, he certainly was a fan of the British museum and anything that involves enlightenment...to have this set so close to the Elgin Marbles would be of particular delight to him.”

Mr Coppel said of receiving the email: “I was simply astonished. Normally one opens emails with a sinking heart.”

Many of the etchings, produced during a “critical period in Picasso’s career”, show the artist’s 17-year-old muse and model, who was also his lover, while others show his studio, where Picasso was creating new sculptures.

Picasso himself described his etchings as a “visual diary” and a way of keeping track of ideas that he was developing.

The museum said they “show something of Picasso’s creative process”.

Some 313 sets of Picasso’s 100 etchings were printed. Although a handful of museums outside Britain have sets in their collections, this particular set is said to be “one of the very best impressions” and has not been shown before.

The etchings will also be the only complete set held by a public museum in the UK.

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