Picasso Museum of Barcelona

The Frugal Meal
Signed Picasso in the bottom right-hand corner
Paris, 1904
Etching and scraping on zinc
61.4 x 44.3 cm
Donated by the artist, 1970
MPB 110.011
Not on display

The Work

This etching from 1904 would mark the real start of Picasso’s activity as an engraver and an earlier xylographer done in Barcelona in 1899-1900 (wood engraving, MPB 110.292) starts the museum’s engraving collection. The artist created it at the Rue Ravignann studio in Paris, known as Bateau-Lavoir, with advice from the Catalan painter and engraver Ricard Canals, who showed Picasso etching technique. This work shows Picasso’s quick technical mastery of classic engraving going back to great creators such as Dürer, Rembrandt and Goya.

Like his other engraving work from the period, The Frugal Meal matches the painting work from the era in both topic and aesthetic, falling fully into the Blue Period.

It pointedly represents misery and desperation. In the foreground, on the meagre tablecloth, there are remains of bread and wine. Behind, the seated couple joined in melancholy but at the same time distanced, despite the tender embrace from the man, are each immersed in their own desolation. The artist’s concentration on humanity and, above all, the poor and other socially marginalised characters is revealed in this etching – hungry men and women with passive apathetic expressions, characters who are humbled by their own weight, often immersed in the characteristic empty scenes from this early Blue Period.

From a stylistic viewpoint, the stretched characters' mannerism in the style of El Greco and clearer in the hands is directly linked to the work The Madman (MPB 4.272).

The Edition

The Museu Picasso in Barcelona has print number 2 from the second and definitive run Picasso kept and donated to the Museum in 1970.

Delâtre made a short first run, with Vollard ordering another from the printer Fort later in 1913. The Frugal Meal is one of the engravings making up the Suite des Saltimbanques (The Acrobats Set) published and put together by Vollard in 1913 and where, initially, fifteen steel plates edited by Fort were included – nearly all his work as an engraver in the 1905-1906 period. Vollard produced a longer run from this set, some twenty-seven or twenty-eight examples on Japanese laid paper and two-hundred and fifty examples on Van Gelder vellum paper. Many of these still preserved plates were scored by Fort throughout 1913.

The present example forms part of the donation Picasso made to the city of Barcelona in 1970. From the family residence in Passeig de Gràcia, it is one of many examples signed in pencil by the artist before the plate was steel-covered. The plate had been used beforehand to engrave a landscape by Juan González, brother of Julio González, and was reused for this Picasso etching.

Prints of The Frugal Meal are housed at the Musée national Picasso in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA in New York, the Boston museum of Fine Arts and the Arts Institute in Chicago.

The Prints Collection at the Museu Picasso

The Museu Picasso has a major collection of the artist’s engraving and lithography work, comprising some 1,500 prints.

Some were donated by Jaume Sabartés, Picasso’s friend and personal secretary. A large amount were donated by Picasso himself, when paying homage to Sabartés upon his death, agreeing to donate from then until the end of his life an example of each engraving he created. The rest are donations from other benefactors and works having been purchased by the museum.

New Prints Rooms have been opened at the Museu Picasso in 2008.

Picasso the Engraver

Picasso’s first incursion into this area took place in 1899 when he engraved a picador on a plate. Whether through inexperience or on purpose, the man holding the lance is left-handed, leading to the title, chosen by Picasso himself, El Zurdo or the left-handed man. The important point is that Picasso’s perseverance and creative genius led him to consolidate this technique year after year, turning him into one of the greatest engravers.

The pieces in the Museu Picasso collection are also testimony to the artist’s close relationship with major printers such as Eugène Delâtre, Louis Fort, Roger Lacourière, Aldo and Piero Crommelyck, Mourlot and Arnéra, enjoying a profitable working relationship with each one. The engraver-printer dialogue led to one of the most important engraving work legacies in the history of graphic art.

For more information, see also the Prints Rooms.