From 1937 to 1955, Pablo Picasso lived and worked in a 17th century townhouse located at 7 Rue des Grands-Augustin, in Paris‘ 6th Arrondissemont. The house had a storied history, particularly for artists: Honore de Balzac chose this „house on the rue des Grands-Augustin“, as the opening scene in The Unknown Masterpiece, a short story from 1837.
The thirteen etchings Picasso (himself identifying with Frenhofer) originally produced to accompany Balzac’s work were commissioned and published by Picasso’s dealer Ambroise Vollard as a folder series in 1927.
„Set in the 17th century in the Parisian studio of an ageing artist, Frenhofer, Balzac’s story revolves around the painter’s obsession with a work which he has secretly spent years struggling to finish. When two painters, admirers of the artist’s work, finally manage to get a glimpse of the painting, they are dismayed to discover just an indecipherable jumble of brush strokes and layers of paint in which they can barely distinguish a foot: the creation of a madman, of someone obsessed with achieving perfection who refuses to accept the imperfection inherent to even the most sublime works of art.“