In late spring 1904, Pablo Picasso settled in the heart of Montmartre, in Paris, where he rented a studio in the legendary Bateau-Lavoir, on rue Ravignan. Painters, sculptors, poets, and writers passed through, among them Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, and Picasso’s friend from Els Quatre Gats, the painter Ricard Canals, whose guidance on etching helped Picasso gain full mastery of the technique. A first state proof allowed him to assess the resulting piece—and thus, Le repas frugal was born, one of the most sought-after etchings in all his engraved work.
In 1913, art dealer Ambroise Vollard acquired the plate, from which he printed 250 copies on Van Gelder paper. The present copy, however, was produced beforehand and is much rarer: it was part of a run of 25 to 27 prints on Japan paper published by Vollard and Picasso and produced at the Louis Fort workshop in 1913. Moreover, the outcome on Japan paper is finer and its tonality much warmer and softer.
Etched during Picasso’s “blue period,” Le repas frugal is part of the now famous series Les Saltimbanques (1904–06). As Bernhard Geiser pointed out, “It is not just circus people who appeared in this series, and not all characters who served as models were denizens of the Butte [Montmartre]. Some of his compositions, Le repas frugal included, are inspired by memories of his home country. These downtrodden, these blind people, these beggars and human wrecks—he had met them all long ago on Spanish soil ... According to Cirici Pellicer (Picasso antes de Picasso, Barcelona, 1945), the figure on the right represented Picasso himself, in his youth, while the one on the left was modelled on a drawing by Pisanello.”
Le repas frugal is a remarkable piece in every respect; this single work places Picasso among the greatest engravers of the twentieth century.
 Els Quatre Gats (“The Four Cats”) was a famous cabaret in Barcelona, Spain. It opened in 1897 and earned its fame for having been frequented by great Catalan and Spanish artists, including Picasso, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.