Le chef-d’oeuvre inconnu is a short story by Honoré de Balzac, which was originally called “Maître Frenhofer” or “Master Frenhofer” when it was published in 1831. The character of Frenhofer is a painter who has been working on the same painting for ten years. Over that time, he develops a complex relationship with his model who is also his mistress. The story ends sadly, with the artist burning his canvas before he dies.
In 1927, the French art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard commissioned Picasso to illustrate a deluxe edition of Balzac’s text, intended for fine art print collectors. Picasso connected with the story on a very deep level, to the point that he moved his studio to the street where the hero of the story had lived. On the centenary of the story, the Picasso/Balzac edition was released.
Along with this masterpiece in 20th-century book design, the collection of graphic arts holds a woodblock designed by Picasso for Le chef-d’oeuvre inconnu that was never included in the published edition.