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Max Jacob’s “Chronique des temps héroïques” Illustrated by Pablo Picasso

From February 11th to 28th 2021 we will be holding our exclusive partner sale with the Portugal-based Perve Galeria. During the sale, you will be able to purchase three exclusive Picasso drypoints that were part of the first editions of the book “Chronique des temps héroïques.”

The French poet, painter, and writer Max Jacob began his memoirs “Chronique des temps héroïques” in 1935. In 1956 it was published with illustrations by his good friend Pablo Picasso. How did it come about that Picasso, who was a world-famous painter at the time of publication, contributed drypoint etchings? Let’s search through the traces of 19th-century Parisian bohemia, where the two artists met and formed a strong friendship.

Chronique des temps héroïques

Max Jacob left behind vivid testimony of his adventures in modern art, such as his experience with the emergence of Cubism. This took him to the flourishing artist bohemia of Montmartre during the Roaring Twenties. Along with Guillaume Apollinaire and Salmon, Max Jacob calls Picasso his hero when he writes about their time together at Rue Ravignan. At the turn of the 20th century, artists and writers who would later become famous lived and worked at No. 13 Rue Ravignan in Paris’s Montmartre neighborhood. Around 1892, the impressionist painter Maxime Maufra was one of the first tenants of the house that was then still called “Maison du Trappeur” (House of the Trapper). This was the beginning of an extraordinary explosion of artists from Spain, Germany and Italy who passed through the studio over the years. We owe its current name “Le Bateau-Lavoir” to Max Jacob, who was once a resident of the house. The name, translated as “washing ship”, was used because the house resembled the boats on the Seine.

Picasso lived at “Le Bateau-Lavoir” from 1904 to 1909. He painted his first cubist pieces there, as well as the world-famous painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The house was a meeting place for many famous avant-garde figures, such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse and Jean Cocteau. Sadly, in May 1970, the house burned down; today, a reconstructed version of it with artists’ studios stands in its stead.

“The central laboratory of painting.”

Max Jacob about Le Bateau-Lavoir
Photography: Pablo Picasso and Max Jacob. Credits: Artnet

Jacob and Picasso

Max Jacob and Pablo Picasso’s deep friendship began several years before their time at Rue Ravignan. They met at Picasso’s solo exhibition at Vollard in Paris in the spring of 1901. Quickly a brotherly friendship developed, with Max Jacob witnessing Picasso’s work almost daily. Jacob described this encounter as “the great event of my life”. Later, Picasso moved into Jacob’s room on the 5th floor of his Boulevard Voltaire apartment. Picasso painted at night when Jacob slept and when Jacob went to work, Picasso slept in the same bed. The winter of 1902 was bitterly cold and the two lacked heating fuel. Picasso burned piles of his own drawings, pastels, and gouaches to heat the room.

In 2014, a previously unknown letter with drawings by Picasso to the poet from a private collection has been displayed in the Quimper Museum of Fine Art. It highlights the intimate relationship they both shared. At the beginning of the 1903 letter, Picasso addresses Jacob as “my dear Max” and refers to himself at the end as “your brother Picasso”. From 1921 onwards, contact became more sporadic, but there continued to be a brotherly bond.

Limited Edition

Lithographic portrait of Max Jacob served as frontispiece of the book, 1956
Credits: Catalog Cramer “The illustrated books by Picasso” n° 78.

In 1956, Louis Broder published a limited edition of Chronique des temps héroïques based on a complete manuscript of the eight chapters, illustrated with a lithographic portrait of Max Jacob and three drypoint etchings by Pablo Picasso. Picasso made the drypoints on September 7th, 1956 in honor of his friend. Max Jacob never saw the publication of his book because he was arrested on February 24th, 1944 by the Gestapo. He was deported to the collection camp Drancy, where he died on the 5th of March 1944.

Pablo Picasso: Max Jacob writing, 7 September 1956, drypoint etching
Pablo Picasso: Back view, 7 September 1956, drypoint etching
Pablo Picasso: In Profile, 7 September 1956, drypoint etching

Initially buried in Ivry-sur-Seine, Jacob’s body was transferred to the cemetery of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire after the Second World War in 1949. This was thanks to friends Jean Cassou, Pablo Picasso and René Iché, who sculpted the tomb of the poet.

Max Jacob was Picasso’s best friend when the two were unknown, struggling creatives. This book is a contemporary testimony to an artistic bohemia and a sign of a profound friendship.