This work is inscribed by Picasso: 'Ce tableau est fait par moi Picasso Cannes le 24.9.58' on the reverse.
Redolent with the vivid bustle of the bullfight, Picasso's Dans l'arène, painted in 1900, is an early example of a painting of a subject that would recur throughout his career. Painted in Barcelona during the bullfighting season, Dans l'arène appears to capture not only the palpable sense of imminent action, but also the haze of the heat and the light of Southern Spain. Picasso's virtuosity is clearly apparent in the effortless means with which he has articulated the various people. The main bullfighter especially, standing to the right of the work, has been rendered with fantastic simplicity, and yet a huge amount of information about his posture, his hat, his clothes, are all packed into the almost calligraphic figure.
While the bullfight was a scene less associated with Barcelona than with Picasso's native Andalusia, it nonetheless took place there. Some of the young artist's colleagues, proud Catalans, seem to have believed that these occasions had little to do with the modern ways to which their corner of Spain was increasingly used. Indeed, they considered themselves pioneers of modernity. However, Picasso managed to find a fantastic compromise in his depictions of the scenes. Dans l'arène, even in the everyday nature of the subject matter, is a fiercely modern picture.
The sheer blocks of colour lend an almost expressionistic air to the painting, burning on the canvas, while the heavy impasto that Picasso has used gives the viewer not only a sense of the tangible nature of the scene, but also presents the viewer with a very real section of the sand in the ring. It is as though the very substance of the arena has been dragged across the surface. This painting burns with the confidence of the 19 year old Catalan prodigy. While the Catalans may not have considered the bullfight as anything to do with them, it was, and remains, undeniably linked to Spain. All things Spanish were greatly in vogue, especially in France, at the time that Dans l'arène was painted, and so one wonders whether Picasso was perhaps already preparing an arsenal of works that he could take later that year on his first ever trip to Paris. Certainly, scenes of Spanish life were proving to be extremely lucrative for other Spanish artists at the time, not least Ramon Casas, who was Picasso's predecessor in a sense as the avant garde element in Barcelona and as such had been one of the founders of the renowned 'Els Quatre Gats' café there. However, it was not mere cynicism that led Picasso to portray this scene. Picasso was addicted to life as subject-matter, and everywhere where people met, he would be ready to portray them. This was even more so when the people were the characters of everyday life, and it was in this way, wandering the city as a descendant of the French flaneur, that Picasso tapped the pulse of modern life and poured it into his art. Likewise, the subject matter in Dans l'arène, a scene that could have taken place in his home, had intense personal resonance for Picasso, hence its reappearance again and again throughout his career.