Artists and their special books

If you think all paper books can be replaced by a Nook, iPad or Kindle, take a good look at “Picasso, Braque, & Léger: Twentieth Century Modern Masters,” an exhibition of works on paper at the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale. Three early founders of Cubism, the most catalytic movement in modern art, engaged with poets, writers and printers to produce “livre d'artises” (artist books), not only as bound volumes, but as folios, scrolls, fold-outs, loose items in a box and concertinas. The variations were as creative as the content.

Seventy-three original prints by three masters of lithography and etching — Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Fernand Léger — are exhibited in the Glendale show.

“The printed medium was an extension of the artist's talent beyond painting, drawing and sculpture, and expanded the scope of ownership,” says Forest Lawn curator Joan Adan. “The nature of prints, particularly etching and lithography and the potential for multiplicity, impelled artists to plan themes [series] for illustration and to master new skills. The print medium extended the reach of museums and private collections throughout the world who could own original works by modern masters, which would not have been possible with the more limited production of paintings.”

The show is really about the print medium, as these artists provided visual metaphors for literature: Picasso's “Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide” ( 1930-31) interprets the mythological poetry of Ovid; Braque illustrates the poetry of René Char with “Lettera Amorosa” (1963); and Léger illustrates the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud in “Les Illuminations” (1939). And though the show is not specifically about Cubism, it is an axis for its founders.

The conceptual intersection in the show is 1911's “Braque's Pale Ale,” one of Cubism's largest and most important etchings during the High Cubism period (1910-12), also called Analytic Cubism.

The subject title seems to foreshadow Pop Art, with a bottle of Bass Ale and a glass on a table top, and the lettering on the label is legible. Adding the glass was an innovation by Braque, noting that looking through it created an optical distortion.

The oval composition of “Pale Ale” is unusual to Cubism, and an invention derived from Rococo paintings the artist had seen at the Louvre. Because action takes place in the center of Cubist construction, Braque eliminates corners with his oval, proving the centricity of Cubism, allowing content to reach the radial edge.

Another notable piece is Picasso's “Face of Marie-Thérèse” (1928), memorable for its beauty and importance in art history. The portrait of Picasso's young mistress and model is rendered with verisimilitude, and is important as a picture of one of the most important muses in art history. She appeared frequently in the work of the most significant art master of the 20th century.

There is just something about a paper book, and perhaps it's the very nature of the art form that gives us greater insight into artists, poets and playwrights, and reminds us of the sentient value of paper. It remains a method for communication and expression in a way that modern technology cannot provide.

TERRI MARTIN is an art historian and contributor to Marquee.

What: “Picasso, Braque, & Léger: Twentieth Century Modern Masters”

Where: Forest Lawn Museum, 1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale

When: Through Jan. 1. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Information: (800) 204-3131,

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World