Provenance: the estate of the artist, through Suzanne Duchamp, Marcel Duchamp, Pierre-Noël Matisse and Jacquelyn Miller Matisse.
The present impression of this important print constitutes a exceptional early version in a working state that is not described in the catalogues raisonnés. It is thus of the utmost rarity, if not unique.
It appears that after Villon had completed the basic composition, he decided to cut the plate down to its definitive format, strictly reformatting the image, and removing the sketchy trial work in the margins of the plate. After reduction, the finished plate measures 220x162mm. (Cf. An impression from the edition in the Duchamp Archives at https://www.duchamparchives.org/cp/archive/component/FRM5050-X003175106/fr/)
We have an idea of Villon's approach in creating this work. Here, commenting on his quasi-cubist print, he says:
Tout d’abord c’était une étude directe d’acrobate, et
puis par simplification, par synthèse, ma figure n’a plus été que
lignes et volumes exprimant l’idée d’équilibre.
C’était toujours mon acrobate mais cela ne représentait plus un acrobate.
[First of all it was a direct study of an acrobat, and then by simplification, by synthesis, my figure was nothing more than lines and volumes expressing the idea of balance.
It was still my acrobat but it no longer represented an acrobat.]
- in Denis Martin, Jacques Villon, la donation Charles S. N. Parent, Musée du Québec, 1992, p. 43.
There is also a larger version of this print, L'Équilibriste, (G&P E286), which was executed in drypoint the year before (see https://www.moma.org/collection/works/69565) and which also corresponds to a picture from the same year (http://www.duchamp-villon-crotti.com/jv-galerie-4web-2/)
* Ginestet & Pouillon identify the technique as "drypoint", although our impression appears to be done with etching and aquatint (the MoMA also describes the print's medium as "etching": see https://www.moma.org/collection/works/68065), as may be attested by the acid bite in the margins. It may well be that after reduction, Villon reworked the plate with drypoint to enhance the composition more dramatically, as he also burnished out other areas to fields of white.