One of the themes that thread their way in and out of the grand sequence of Picasso's late drawings and prints is the circus, in which the ring is dominated by large-breasted Amazonian women who ride horses, tame lions or crack the ringmaster's whip. The present Scène de cirque was the first of four drawings that Picasso executed on 22 September 1968, and the only one drawn that day that Picasso rendered in color.
The setting is Picasso's typical 'theater of memory,' in which the artist has placed himself as a observer in a scene that alludes to events from his past, often very distant ones. Picasso, in the form of the gaping, bearded male figure seated at left, looks on as a female rider balances atop a stallion, which is emblematic of the artist's libido. The horse's arched neck and shoulders resemble those of a hyena, and its aspect seems just as fearsome, as it charges breathing flames and with its male member fully erect. A second gargantuan female stands nearby, and appears as if she is actually perched on the man's knees.
John Richardson has identified the source of these circus fantasies as being Picasso's memories of Rosita del Oro, a well-known circus rider whom Picasso took as his first girlfriend when he was still an adolescent living with his parents and family in Barcelona. "The conquest of this star equestrienne by a boy just turned fifteen says a lot for his personality and sexual magnetism. Nor was this a short-lived adolescent fling; it was a relationship that lasted on and off for a number of years. At the very end of his life, however, Rosita comes back to haunt Picasso. His lifelong passion for the circus, his identification with acrobats and clowns, stems from this early romance" (in A Life of Picasso, Volume I, 1881-1906, New York, 1991, p. 68).