The richness of the present impression of La Femme au Tambourin implies that it is an unrecorded proof pulled before the signed and numbered edition of thirty.
The extraordinary figure depicted in Picasso's important etching La Femme au Tambourin bears a resemblance to Dora Maar, identifiable by her wide-eyed expression and powerful chin. Picasso's dancer, however, is not a portrait of one person, but rather a vision of an altogether more profound kind. The extraordinary body, twisted in extreme contrapposto, communicates a sense of frenzy and abandon. Set against an inky blackness, the effect is both energizing and troubling. La Femme au Tambourin is an emotional work reflective of the volatile events of 1939; Germany and Italy were now dominated by Fascism and the Civil War in Spain had reached its tumultuous last days. This subject exists as one of a small but highly important group of works created in direct response to these events.
Picasso's monumental vision of volatility draws from several sources. The first state of the print shows a pose which borrowed much from Degas' monotype Après le Bain. As Brigitte Baer describes, several alterations then resulted in a woman who 'cannot stand upright and keep her balance' (Brigitte Baer, Picasso The Engraver, Thames and Hudson, New York, 1997, p. 43). Picasso's ingenious solution was to radically alter the figure's right leg which was now flung outward, paradoxically balancing and increasing the sense of twisting movement. Another key inspiration was the Maenad figures in Poussin's Bacchanalia whose raised arms are also to be found in Picasso's image.
Whilst the subject of dance usually suggests elation, Picasso's Tambourine woman is frenzied and wild. A great part of this emotive element comes from Picasso's superlative use of technique. The dancer's body has been carved in energetic swathes across the plate, with vigorously scored details adding to the sense of movement. The aquatint work however is subtle and extremely skillful: light and shadow play across the figure, whereas the background is a pure void of velvety blackness. Printing the background of such a large plate was a considerable challenge, even for Roger Lacourière. In a typical tour de force, he and Picasso invented a process of piecemeal printing which ensured a seamless result.