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La Célestine: Illustrated by Pablo Picasso

The Tales of Celestine

The illustrated book, “La Celestine” by Picasso consists of 66 small format intaglio prints with text in French. The 66 intaglios were created between April 11 and August 18, 1968. The text and typography was printed by Fequet et Baudier, Paris. The binding was by Bernard Duval. The intaglios were printed by Atelier Crommelynck.

Picasso was interested in the character of Celestina from the Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea (Book of Calisto and Melibea and the Old Whore Celestina), a novel published in 1499 by Fernando de Rojas. The book, famous in Spanish literature, tells of Calisto, who falls in love with Melibea. Calisto professes his love, but upon Melibea’s rejection, he enlists Celestina, owner of a brothel, to help him in winning over Melibea. Celestina, however, plots to get as much money out of Calisto as possible. While, ultimately, she succeeds in getting Melibea to fall in love with Calisto, she is killed by her cohorts, who believe she has double-crossed them. The story weaves a tale of intrigue and trickery that results, ultimately, in the death of Celestina, Calisto and Melibea, who throws herself off the roof after learning of the death of her lover.

Celestina is the most remarkable character in the story; her behavior knows no boundaries, and she is a crafty character of many manipulations. What interested Picasso in the story were the lovers' meetings, arranged by Celestina and held in her presence. The images from the suite of intaglios represent the lovers, often in the company of Celestina, who is depicted as a little old “hag-like” woman.

Celestina makes her first appearance in the series on May 14, in scenes of erotic intimacy and nocturnal activities. It is interesting to note that Picasso had painted a realistic and poignant portrait of Celestina early in his career in 1903 and that the character had intrigued him for decades.

Editions of La Célestine

The 66 intaglios, which include etching, aquatint, dry-point, burin, engraving and combinations of techniques done for La Célestine are also a part of the famous “347 Series” and were produced in the following editions:

Between March 16 and October 5, 1968 Picasso worked on the plates for the “347 Series,” including the 66 images chosen for “La Celestine” almost daily, using various techniques (sometimes on the same plate); he was anxious to see the proof impressions pulled by Aldo and Piero Crommelynck, who had installed their atelier at Mougins in 1963 to work for him. The relationship between the artist and the brothers Crommelynck who were familiar with the demands and the working process of Picasso, was responsible for the extraordinary output of intaglio prints he created at the end of his life, a creative output which has yet to matched by any artist in history. Picasso said in his later years that if he only made one impression of the intaglios upon which he worked at this time, he would have still continued to make them as the continuing process of engraving and proofing the plates was so appealing, engrossing and challenging to him.

The cancelled plates for “la Celestine” were deposited by the Crommelynck brothers to the Musee Picasso, Paris, where they still remain.

About Picasso’s illustrated books

The completed illustrated book of “la Celestine” exists as one of Picasso’s most fascinating “livres d’artistes.” The concept of an illustrated book wherein an artist interprets the literary creations of an author or poet is one with a long tradition in art history. Picasso was particularly interested in these projects and began as early as 1905 when he created an etching for his friend Andre Salmon for a publication of a series of Salmon’s poems. Projects for poets Max Jacob, Paul Valery, Andre Breton and others whom Picasso admired continued during the following years. In 1931 the artist was approached by the young art dealer and publisher Albert Skira about illustrating Ovid’s “Metamorphoses (8 AD).” This project, which contained 30 neo-classic line drawing etchings, firmly established a long tradition for Picasso in the publication of high quality, historically relevant and fascinating collaborations of art and literature which have become highly sought after. Picasso’s illustrated books became a benchmark for important artists of the 20th century who followed him, including Chagall, Dali, Miro and others. In his astonishing career, he participated in the creation of no less than 155 illustrated books between the years 1905 and 1972. A final tribute by Picasso’s friend P.A. Benoit was published posthumously in 1974 called “Alors.” In the creation of his illustrated books, Picasso employed the printing techniques of intaglio, linoleum cut, and lithography and in the final book by Benoit, even a print impression from a cardboard cutout.

Source: Pablo Picasso, The Illustrated Books: Catalogue Raisonne; 1983; Patrick Cramer

For more information on the Park West Gallery Picasso Collection:
(800)-521-9654 xt. 4 or (248) 354-2343.