Pablo Picasso’s Tender Illustrations For Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (1934)

picasso proofs

In the mid-1930s, some beau­ti­ful, high-qual­i­ty books were pub­lished by a com­pa­ny called Lim­it­ed Edi­tions Club, which, accord­ing to Antiques Road­show apprais­er Ken Sanders, was “famous for re-issu­ing clas­sics of lit­er­a­ture and com­mis­sion­ing con­tem­po­rary liv­ing artists to illus­trate 1500-copy signed lim­it­ed edi­tions.”  One of those books—the 1934 Pablo Picas­so-illus­trat­ed edi­tion of Aristo­phanes’ Lysis­tra­ta—is, next to Hen­ri Matisse’s 1935 edi­tion of Joyce’s Ulysses, one of “the most sought after and desir­able lim­it­ed edi­tions on the mar­ket today.”


The book’s rar­i­ty, of course, ren­ders it more valu­able on the mar­ket than a mass-pro­duced object, but whether it was worth $5,000 or $50, I think I’d hold onto my copy if I had one (here’s one for $12,000 if you’re buy­ing). While Aubrey Beardsley’s 1896 illus­tra­tions do full and styl­ish jus­tice to the satir­i­cal Greek comedy’s bawdy nature, Picasso’s draw­ings ren­der sev­er­al scenes as ten­der, soft­ly sen­su­al tableaux. The almost child­like sim­plic­i­ty of these illus­tra­tions of a play about female pow­er and the lim­its of patri­archy do not seem like the work of a rumored misog­y­nist, but then again, nei­ther do any of Picasso’s oth­er domes­tic scenes in this spare, round­ed style of his.


In Aristo­phanes’ play, the women of Greece refuse their hus­bands sex until the men agree to end the Pelo­pon­nesian War. The play makes much of the men’s mount­ing sex­u­al frus­tra­tion, with sev­er­al humor­ous ges­tures toward its phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions. Beardsley’s draw­ings offend Vic­to­ri­an eyes by mak­ing these scenes into exag­ger­at­ed nud­ist farce. Picas­so’s mod­ernist sketch­es all but ignore the overt sex­u­al­i­ty of the play, pic­tur­ing two lovers (2nd from top) almost in the pos­ture of moth­er and child, the pent up men (image above) as deject­ed and down­cast gen­tle souls, and the reunion of the sex­es (below) as a high­ly styl­ized, none too erot­ic, feast. These images are three of six signed proofs fea­tured on the blog Book Graph­ics. See their site to view all six illus­tra­tions.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hen­ri Matisse Illus­trates 1935 Edi­tion of James Joyce’s Ulysses

Watch Icon­ic Artists at Work: Rare Videos of Picas­so, Matisse, Kandin­sky, Renoir, Mon­et, Pol­lock & More

Picas­so Paint­ing on Glass

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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