This interesting frieze-like composition was executed in 1969, at a time of great upheaval and transition within the art world. The international domination of abstract art in the 1960s was waning, whilst a desire for everyday subjects was on the rise. The departure of this non-representational art was superseded by Pop Art and New Realism, and soon objects such as soup cans and washing powder boxes became the new icons that exposed social taboos. Picasso, who had, at one time, set out to revolutionise art, now found himself bracketed with the 'Classics'. Thus, near the end of his life, he was facing a formidable challenge to avoid being squeezed out of the peryphery of avant-garde. From 1963 on, he began his revolt against the consume-and-dispose mentality denounced by artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.
Scène de cirque bears witness to this pivotal phase in Picasso's career. There is no obvious narrative statement in the composition; instead Picasso probes the great social taboo of sexuality by presenting the nude figure of a woman directly at the centre of the work. This is in part related to the artist's perennial rebellion against bourgeois moralities, and in part to his urge to reinstate his sexual prowess in the later years of his life. More than any other, an image of sexual vitality serves as an amulet against death. Any sense of perversity is lessened however by the figures that flank either side of the woman. The clown to her left, the male enlarged to gigantic proportions, the bird, the monkey, horse and serpent create a surreal background to the woman's enigmatic domination. The exaggerated perspective is typical of Picasso's last works, used in order to achieve an intensity that forces the viewer to confront the picture directly.
The woman stands in stark contrast to the childlike draughtsmanship of the male. She, above the rest acquires a hierarchy of status. The way she is dressed and the manner in which she stands grant her a superiority and respect not demanded from us by the other figures. Although her presence at the forefront of the picture unites her with the rest of the characters, she retains an eminence more in keeping with a spectator than as part of a spectacle as the image as a whole suggests. Scène de cirque, like much of Picasso's late work, is divorced from all conventional genres and concepts. We are forced in consequence to enter into a dialogue with the work and left to form our own interpretations. This is an endearing challenge for us as a viewer. We not only witness the richness of Picasso's imagination, but become drawn into the fantasy into the fantasy and fairytale that characterise this drawing.