Of Picasso's many alter-egos, the Minotaur is perhaps the most memorable. The mythic beast first appeared in a charcoal drawing with collage of 1928 (Centre Pompidou, Paris), but it was only in 1933 that the artist focused his attention on the creature in a group of etchings in the Suite Vollard. At the time, Picasso was embroiled in a passionate affair with the young Marie-Thérèse Walter, while attempting to maintain the status-quo of his marriage to Olga Khokhlova. For Picasso, the dual nature of the minotaur, half man and half beast representing the conflicting impulses of human nature of instinct and reason, became symbolic of his own troubled emotions - of blind desire, guilt and rage. He would later observe 'If all the ways I have been along were marked in a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a minotaur' (The artist, quoted in: D. Ashton, Picasso on Art: A Selection of Views, Viking, New York, 1972, p. 159).
In Blind Minotaur led by a little Girl in the Night Picasso re-interprets the myth in the light of his personal circumstances, casting himself in the role of the Minotaur, who is transformed from a creature of horror into a figure of pathos. In a reversal of the Greek myth, according to which Ariadne helps Theseus to destroy the monster, Picasso's Ariadne, a little girl holding a white dove, leads the Minotaur free from the labyrinth, the setting of his violent appetites. Now blind and helpless, the beast submits to being guided. The features of the girl explicitly identify her as Marie-Thérèse, and the Minotaur's reliance on the girl suggests Picasso's dependence on the woman he loves and the power she has over him. While other plates in the Suite Vollard reveal the sensuality of their relationship (see lot 97), or allude to its destructiveness in the breaking up of Picasso's marriage to Olga, Blind Minotaur led by a little Girl in the Night evokes a vision of muted hope, of the transformative potential of love. The scene is witnessed by a young sailor on the left, and by two older, bearded fishermen at the right, who are hauling in a fishing net and pulling down a white sail. This seemingly insignificant detail is weighted with symbolic significance. In the myth, Theseus sails home and neglects to change his ship's black sails for white ones, the pre-arranged signal for a victorious outcome. His aged father, Aegeus, seeing the black sails and fearing the worst casts himself to his death from a cliff in grief. Picasso's alteration of this detail suggests an alternative outcome - of tragedy averted and hope fulfilled.
Another interpretation of Blind Minotaur led by a little Girl in the Night sees it within the context of the political turmoil of the 1930's, the rise of General Franco and Picasso's engagement with the Republican cause. Set against this backdrop, the blind Minotaur, a creature of passion and violence, can be interpreted as a personification of Spain on the brink of civil war. In this reading, the dove-bearing girl is a symbol of a fragile peace, holding the blind forces of war and destruction in check. As Stephen Coppel comments on this series, 'They are stepping stones on the road to Guernica, [Picasso's] monumental icon of the horrors of war'. (S. Coppel, Picasso Prints - The Vollard Suite, exh. cat., The British Museum Press, London, 2012, p. 169).
Blind Minotaur led by a little Girl in the Night is an extraordinary example of Picasso's facility with printmaking. Picasso achieved the dreamlike effect through burnished aquatint, a method akin to mezzotint, in which the artist works from dark to light. Starting with a prepared plate, in which an aquatint had been applied and etched to create an overall tone, he then scraped and burnished the image, creating the bright highlights, illuminating the scene from the left and throwing the figures into sharp relief against the star-punctured night sky. The effect is magical and the subject is rightly regarded as one of the masterpieces of the Suite Vollard and of Picasso's graphic oeuvre.