Happy Birthday, Picasso: His Rare 1934 Etchings for a Sexually Charged Ancient Greek Comedy


Literary entrepreneurship, unorthodox anti-war advocacy, and a side of sex.


There is something singularly mesmerizing about the marriage of great art and great literature — take, for instance, Salvador Dalí’s heliogravures for Alice in Wonderland, his illustrations for Montaigne’s essays and Don Quixote, and Henri Matisse’s etchings for Ulysses. The latter gem was masterminded by New York literary entrepreneur George Macey, who founded the Limited Editions Club in 1929 — an imprint specializing in commissioning some of the era’s best-known artists to illustrate literary classics in limited editions of 1,500 signed copies, sold to members on a subscription basis. It was an early — and successful — experiment in premium publishing and subscription models, later replicated by Anaïs Nin in her own Gremor Press.

In 1934, Macey commissioned Pablo Picasso (October 25, 1881–April 8, 1973) to illustrate a special edition of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata (public library) — a Greek comedy about a woman who sets out to end the Peloponnesian War by convincing her countrywomen to withhold sex from their war-bound husbands and lovers. Macey’s edition included six original etchings by the celebrated artist and 34 line block reproductions of the drawings. Picasso’s signature style of simple, elegant lines and expressive sensuality seemed to be a perfect fit for the ancient classic, which, though comedic in nature, also offered a prescient backdrop for Picasso’s own anti-war paintings a few years later.


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