Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Ruiz-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Picasso’s passionately rendered Scène de tauromachie illustrates the artist’s love of the bullfight, his favourite spectacle since his childhood in Spain. Living in the South of France since the late-1940s, having recently moved to Aix-en-Provence at the time of this painting, Picasso would visit bullfights at nearby arenas in Nîmes, Arles and Vallauris, engaging with this motif in series from the mid-1950s onward with renewed vigour.
Scène de tauromachie suspends a tense moment in the elaborate dance of the bullfight; the Picador, his spear aligned with the bull’s head, preparing to strike with his lance. The bull is wound up, horns aligned with the horse’s chest, tail raised, on the brink of charge. The gestural nature of the gouache fluidly conveys the movement and ferocity of the scene, expressing the bull with rapid swathes and marks in an increased density of gouache, heightened by the crowd packed into the arena behind him. Picasso frequently used the motif of the bull to suggest masculine strength and a sense of the primal, at times forceful and brutish. This was often posited in opposition to reason and civilisation, in this case, embodied by contrast in the horse and Picador. The artist shared an affinity with the bull and at times embodied himself within the beast in the guise of the Minotaure; the half-man, half-bull reflecting a split alternating between the rational and the carnal, the masculine and the feminine, brute force and reason. As Françoise Gilot recounted him saying, at the end of their relationship, ‘For me the bull is the proudest symbol of all, and your symbol is the horse. I want our two symbols to face each other in that ritual way’ (F. Gilot, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 362).
The application of the white viscous gouache atop the black watercolour of the ground reminisces of the explorations into ceramic that Picasso was undertaking at that time which would become an extraordinary body of work during his later years. Many corrida scenes would be featured, frequently depicted in glazed engobe over black oxide or its inverse. This was also the case with Picasso’s drawings, such as Bullfight scene, 1960 (Tate, London) whereby the white sheet forms the ground, with the black ink embodying his gesture.
The calligraphic, monochrome nature of Scène de tauromachie lends itself well to the subject, the gesture accounting for much of the passionate feeling evoked by the work. Far from being a default drawing mechanism, this palette found throughout Picasso’s oeuvre was very much a pictorial choice, employed as much in his paintings as in his works on paper and ceramics. It was of course no accident that the masterpiece Guernica utilised this palette, featuring the figures of the bull and the horse as symbols evoking the dynamics of the bullfight to describe the brutality of war. Picasso’s black and white works were also some of his most treasured, as Carmen Giménez, curator of Black and White at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, remarks: ‘Throughout his career, [Picasso] had great difficulty parting with works that were very important to him and as a result, the majority of his black-and-white paintings belong to the Picasso family and the Musée National Picasso, Paris’ (C. Giménez, Picasso, Black and White, New York, 2012, p. 23).