David Tunick, Inc.

Pablo Picasso: A Rarity on the Cusp of the Blue Period and the Rose Period

Pablo Picasso: A Rarity on the Cusp of the Blue Period and the Rose Period

Pablo Picasso

This virtual exhibition is a departure for us in that we are featuring one work only, Les Deux Saltimbanques, by Pablo Picasso. It can occupy center stage on its own.

Picasso and poet Guillaume Apollinaire together regularly visited the famous Cirque Médrano in the center of Paris, where the two young bohemians observed the performers on stage and backstage. The vagrant lives of the acrobats, animal tamers, clowns, and dancers resonated with the two artists, both recent and impoverished arrivals in the bustling capital of France. Picasso's 1905 Les Deux Saltimbanques and Apollinaire’s poem Crépscule (below) effectively convey an intimate, yet lonely melancholy of a class of artistes with which they could identify.

The medium is also a message. Picasso makes the print unique by his careful wiping of gray and black on the surface of the plate and by the rich “burr”, the textured effect resulting from ink spilling literally outside the incised, drypoint lines. The work is in a sense a combination print and drawing, which he reserved for Apollinaire. (There is one other such early impression as rich and extraordinary, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.)

Image Credit:

Pablo Picasso, Les Deux Saltimbanques, 1905, drypoint before steel facing

Crépuscule (Twilight)

by Guillaume Apollinaire

Written 1905 as “Spectacle,” published 1909

Brushed by the shadows of the dead 

On the grass where day expires 

Columbine strips bare admires 

her body in the pond instead 

A charlatan of twilight formed 

Boasts of the tricks to be performed 

The sky without a stain unmarred

Is studded with the milk-white stars 

From the boards pale Harlequin 

First salutes the spectators 

Sorcerers from Bohemia 

Fairies sundry enchanters 

Having unhooked a star 

He proffers it with outstretched hand 

While with his feet a hanging man 

Sounds the cymbals bar by bar 

The blind man rocks a pretty child 

The doe with all her fauns slips by 

The dwarf observes with saddened pose 

How Harlequin magically grows

Pablo Picasso

Les Deux Saltimbanques


12.2 x 9.1 cm (4.8 x 3.6 in.)

Drypoint before steel facing on medium/heavy laid paper

The artist; Presumably circa 1905; Guillaume Apollinaire, Paris; Galerie Feldman, Cologne, 1914; Dr. H. Stinnes (1844-1925, Cologne), similar to Lugt 1376a; Paul Draper (New York?); 1981; David Tunick, Inc., 1983; Private collection, New York

This work, executed by Pablo Picasso at the end of his Blue Period and the beginning of his Rose Period, bears a handwritten dedication from the artist to poet Guillaume Apollinaire, a close friend and strong advocate of Picasso.

Price upon request


Picasso made Les Deux Saltimbanques in 1905, when he was 24-years-old, and gave it to Apollinaire, to whom Picasso has inscribed a personal, pen-written dedication. In its large size, it is more like a loud shout: “To Apollinaire, Picasso”.

During his regular visits to the Cirque Médrano, Picasso drew, painted, and made prints of the performers, not engaged in entertaining circus frivolity, but instead capturing the lonely, itinerant lives that the players led as a marginal underclass of artistes, something which Picasso himself had experienced as a destitute and recently transient arrival in Paris. Picasso was so close to his writer and poet friends that he penned “Au Rendez-vous des poètes” on the door of his Monmartre apartment.

Pablo Picasso, Family of Saltimbanques, 1905, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


The young artist in Paris.

Les Deux Saltimbanques looks and has the feeling of an atmospheric drawing but in fact it is a drypoint, a kind of engraving that Picasso favored exclusively in his earliest graphic work. Drypoint was a challenging technique that Picasso would have known from Rembrandt and Whistler. It requires exactitude in its execution of line on a copperplate, but is also allows an accidental, almost random flow of textured ink when the image is transferred to paper.

One might think of Picasso’s drypoints as a kind of combination print and drawing, which would have appealed to his unique inventiveness and creativity. But the technique yielded only a very small number of examples showing the rich burr and toning in the background requisite to creating the composition and mood that Picasso intended. The recorded number for this work in its finished form is a total of two: ours and one other in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The poet, Guillaume Apollinaire.


There was a second edition of Les Deux Saltimbanques issued nearly a decade later by the art dealer Vollard, but the plate had to be steel-faced to make it last. The resulting impressions are lifeless shadows of the original.

Get in touch with

David Tunick, Inc.

13 E. 69th St. New York, NY 10021

+1 212-570-0090