PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
1 More
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

La Minotauromachie

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
La Minotauromachie
etching and engraving with scraper, on Montval laid paper, 1935, Baer's seventh (final) state, published by the artist, Paris
Image: 19 ½ x 27 ¼ in. (495 x 692 mm.)
Sheet: 22 ¼ x 30 ½ in. (565 x 775 mm.)
The artist’s estate.
Marina Picasso, Paris, by descent from the above,
Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva.
Private collection, France; sale, Christie's, New York, 16 November 2016, lot 42B.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
G. Bloch, Catalogue de l'oeuvre gravé et lithographié 1904-1967, Bern, 1968, no. 288, p. 286 (another example illustrated).
B. Baer, Picasso Peintre-Graveur, Bern, 1986, vol. III, no. 573, p. 24 (another example illustrated).

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

La Minotauromachie is not only the most celebrated engraving of Pablo Picasso’s oeuvre, but is among the most important graphic works of the twentieth century. Over the course of five days in early July 1935, Picasso worked in Roger Lacourière’s studio, conjuring an elaborate and deftly executed image. La Minotauromachie offers a wealth of interpretation: anecdote mixed with symbolism mixed with myth. Coupled with Picasso’s well known aversion to providing explanations for his art, the layered complexity of this work makes it one of his most intriguing images.

Reading from left to right, a bearded man is climbing a ladder, turning to look over his shoulder at the theatrical scene which plays out beneath him. To his right, two women at a window also look downwards, and immediately in front of them two doves sit by a shallow drinking dish. Below the window a young flower girl holds up a candle which illuminates the head of a wounded horse on whose back lies a torera, a female bull-fighter. Almost the entire right-hand half of the image is taken up by the enormous figure of a Minotaur whose outstretched right arm seeks to shield him from the candle’s glow. Visible beyond the Minotaur on the distant horizon is a half sunken sailboat.

Most interpretations of La Minotauromachie begin by referencing factual events in Picasso’s life at the time. The period between the winter of 1934 until the summer of 1935 saw almost no artistic production for Picasso, who described it as ‘the worst period of my life’. In June 1935, Picasso’s wife Olga had finally left him as a result of her discovering that his young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter was pregnant. This situation provoked in Picasso a deep sense of inner turmoil which resulted in a break in his artmaking. Printmaking, an exercise which requires a significant amount of physical involvement, appears to have provided Picasso with much needed cathartic activity. Working on the copper plate, strength returned to the artist through his engagement with the material and, as the stages of constructing the image progressed, Picasso grew in confidence and the image grew in potency.

La Minotauromachie is replete with references to the autobiographical forces at work. As is suggested by its title, the primary symbolic sources are those of the tauromachie (the bull fight) and of the Minotaur, both of which Picasso had placed at the heart of his personal iconography since the early 1930s. The torera lying on the horse’s back bears the profile of Marie-Thérèse. It has been suggested that her rounded stomach, which she overtly bears towards the towering Minotaur, seemingly stopping him in his tracks, was an indication of her pregnancy. John Richardson has speculated that the dying horse could have been the image of Olga, the figure of Picasso’s loathing at this time.

The young flower girl holding the light is one of the central figures of the scene. The indomitable presence of the Minotaur attempts to reach forward and extinguish her candle. John Richardson has suggested that this is the figure of Picasso’s younger sister, Conchita, who died in 1895, aged seven. She had contracted diphtheria and Picasso, in his grief-stricken state, vowed that he would never paint again if she was saved. Picasso did paint again and the medicine that would have cured Conchita did not arrive in time. It is supposedly the haunting memory of his broken promise that is portrayed in La Minotauromachie: ‘The flame represents the art Picasso had vowed to abandon if Conchita lived,’ Richardson has explained, ‘he is unable to grab the emblem of his votive obsession. His broken vow would never be fully redeemed’ (Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, London, 2017, p. 11).

Picasso began using the image of a Minotaur as his own alter ego in the early 1930s. In the etchings of La Suite Vollard from 1933-1936, he presented a complete life cycle of the beast, beginning with social scenes of him as a self-confident male indulging in bacchanalian celebrations. These scenes then give way to more sentimental works of a pensive creature watching his sleeping lover. Next is a series of several images of a blind Minotaur, led through a barren land by a young Marie-Thérèse. Finally several images show the beast as man’s victim, slain in the bull ring as the fear-inspiring outsider.

By introducing the Minotaur, Picasso entered a world of legend and the surreal. The mythical Minotaur is the physical embodiment of man’s fundamentally split personality, divided between his conscious sense of responsibility and an unconscious animal lust. By portraying himself as an imaginary creature which lives on the boundary of human experience, Picasso hints at a quasi-magical element of his own personality, which is the source of his creativity.

La Minotauromachie is the apotheosis of the themes Picasso developed throughout the 1930s, and is considered one of the two greatest prints of modern times, the other being La femme qui pleure, I. Although packed with symbolic references, the image is so compelling that it is not necessary to understand every part. Picasso believed that art is not created to make sense of the world, but rather to capture the unknowable elementary forces of nature. As his spiritual self-portrait, La Minotauromachie remained a deeply personal work for the artist. Picasso’s most significant prints, both personally and critically, tended not to be printed and editioned in the precise, well organised way that most of his graphic output was. The artist saw these as a more private enterprise, with impressions given to close friends. Even buying one of these masterpieces was no simple process – having sufficient funds was not the only criteria, and many aspiring purchasers went away empty-handed. Picasso carefully selected those who he believed were entitled to own a Minotauromachie and therefore a piece of his own mythology.

More from 20th / 21st Century: London Evening Sale

View All
View All