Woman Bullfighter, IV
Artist: Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Medium: Etching and scraper on copper
Dimensions: Print 237 x 299mm, 9 3/8 x 11 3/4″
Signature: Estate stamp reproducing Picasso’s signature in black ink in the lower right
References: Bloch 280; Baer 428b1
Edition: Numbered 1/50, from the total edition of 69 published by Leiris in 1961 before the cancellation of the plate. Four artist’s proofs were also pulled the year before.
Paper: Laid; untrimmed
Condition: Fine (Saidenberg’s pencil inscriptions in the corner of the peripheral margin, verso, showing through to the recto but hidden by the overmat; slight waviness of this delicate paper in the margins)
Provenance: Saidenberg Gallery, NY, 1983
Price: Upon request
Picasso created five prints over a ten-day period which Bloch names Femme Torero. A total of nine related prints, including La Grande Corrida and three drypoints named Morte au Soleil, depict a bull and Picasso’s mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter as a female bullfighter who has fallen off her gored horse. This series of prints presages Guernica both stylistically and thematically. Most of them, including this print, are highly successful works, beautiful to behold and laden with symbolism. In my estimation, they lyrically and artistically lead the pack of Picasso’s many takes on the corrida, alongside several linocuts.
The bullfighter in all six intaglio prints appears enraptured, despite her tumble. As if to leave no doubt, in the earliest print, Femme Torero I, the woman and bull seem about to kiss on the lips. This liaison could also be interpreted as the kiss of death, given the ambiguity of the series as to whether the torera is still alive. As Marilyn McCully has pointed out in Picasso Érotique, this interpretation could be supported by, and symbolic of, the fact that Picasso’s passion for Marie-Thérèse was drawing to an end.
It is widely agreed that Picasso identified with the bull, that symbol of virility. Much has been written about the bullfight as a stylized sexual encounter. It is perhaps less well know that there was a famous female bullfighter with whom Picasso was acquainted. I am uncertain if she were active at this time and if he knew her then, or only later as recounted by Françoise Gilot.
Femme Torero, IV brilliantly captures the horse’s anguish and the bemused expression of the bull. To me, this is the finest depiction of the anguished horse in all of Picasso’s prints, rivaled only by the horse in Guernica and some of the antecedents and postscripts to that masterpiece. I also love the “What, me?” look of the bull. The bull conveys a great amount of feeling and expression, not at all diminished by the spare line with which Picasso depicted it, and perhaps all the more astonishing because of the economy of line. Marie-Thérèse is sketchily portrayed in a sculptural style which merges forehead and nose reminiscent of Picasso’s famous stylizations of her in sculptures, prints, and other media the year before.
What is the appeal of a bullfight scene to those who care nothing for the sport? As I see it, its appeal has very little to do with bullfighting itself and everything to do with Picasso’s unique take on it. In Picasso’s various approaches to violence, allegory is often not far beneath the surface. There are typically one or more underlying commentaries on the absurdity of conflict or the dumb luck that has thrust the combatants into the conflict in the first place. Here, there is the interplay of love and death. Elsewhere, one can see gladiators absurdly chasing each other in a circle (Le Combat, Bloch 301, 1937), or knights in ridiculously elaborate armour more akin to a male bird’s showy plumage or a costume out of a masquerade ball than actually protective wear (Bloch 684-686, 1951). For a completely different take on the bullfight, one notes the dance of death motif of a number of the bullfight linocuts, in which the bull’s and horse’s legs are playfully curved and rounded into a sprightly pas de deux.
Picasso’s political commentary was rarely straightforward. Even the famous Guernica, The Charnel House, and Massacre in Korea paintings are unrepresentative of modern warfare. Each of them could have taken place hundreds of years earlier, for all the information Picasso provides. Anguished mothers and animals, prisoners’ hands tied together, half-naked soldiers pointing their muskets at their marks are timeless images, so unlike our own headline news. Picasso is remembered just as much for his symbols of peace as for his symbols of war, by his many lithographs, drawings, paintings, ceramics and sculptures of pigeons and doves, by which he carried on a fine family tradition. Though his father, an academic painter, remarkably made the pigeon his life’s work, it was left to the son to elevate the dove to the modern icon of peace seen round the world. All the while Picasso must have been chuckling, since he himself raised pigeons and doves and had been known to comment on how very unpeaceful those creatures actually are.
Some time ago, an excellent essay quite relevant to this discussion appeared in the NY Times, which I quote in its entirety, as follows:
“The Minotaur and the Muse: Picasso’s Carmen Fixation”
By ALAN RIDING, PARIS
NY Times, May 10, 2007
“Mistresses and wives successively served as Pablo Picasso’s muses, but they were not enough. He also sought inspiration from fictional women. And who better than Carmen to personify the themes of sex, love, violence, tragedy and death that run through so much of his work?
“That Carmen was born in a novella by a Frenchman, Prosper Mérimée, and made famous in an opera by another, Georges Bizet, mattered little to him. For Picasso, the Spanish-born maestro who spent most of his life in France, the Gypsy temptress from Seville was also deeply Spanish: proud, provocative, passionate and doomed. And he embraced her as such. Picasso might have reflected, “Carmen, c’est moi” in the spirit of Flaubert’s identity with Madame Bovary. Certainly he made her his own. True, on two occasions late in life when illustrating editions of Mérimée’s story, he acknowledged that she was fictional. But more often he seemed to evoke a memory of Carmen, in spirit and appearance, when he portrayed the women he loved and the women he imagined.
“The exotic and erotic aspects of his Carmen are explored in Picasso-Carmen: Sol y Sombra, a show of some 220 works at the Musée Picasso here through June 24. Its subtitle, “Sol y Sombra,” refers to the sun and shade sides of bullrings, but in this context it also underlines the extremes of life represented by Carmen.
“Bullfighting is of course ever present in Picasso’s work, not only because he was a fervent aficionado (he frequently attended corridas in Arles in southern France), but also because he used it as a metaphor for the animal passions driving human behavior, including his own.
“In Mérimée and Bizet too these parallels are self-evident: Carmen is killed outside Seville’s bullring by her jilted lover, Don José, just as her new lover, the matador Escamillo, is slaying a bull inside the arena.
“For Picasso, who often portrayed himself as a bull or minotaur, bullfighting was very much a sexual ritual. This exhibition even displays a dozen anonymous postcards from Picasso’s private collection, which show a bare-breasted female matador confronting a bull in the form of a phallus.
“Early in his career, in a 1898 drawing of a hooded woman titled “Carmen,” he imagined a more typical Sevillana, her dark hair covered by a lace scarf, or mantilla. This is also how he portrayed his mistress, Fernande Olivier, and a friend, Benedetta Canals, in Paris in 1905 [illustrated below]. And in 1917 Olga Khokhlova, soon to become his first wife, is also shown wearing a mantilla.
“Was he thinking of Carmen? The reality is that beyond his contributions to new editions of “Carmen” in 1948-49 and 1964, he showed little interest in illustrating Carmen’s story. Rather the premise of this exhibition, which has been organized by Anne Baldassari, the director of the Musée Picasso, is that Carmen influenced the way he saw all women.
“As a result Picasso-Carmen includes numerous drawings and paintings of nude women and couples making love and, more disturbingly, a sketch of a man hitting a woman and another of a man strangling a woman. The seedier side of love is reinforced by his Blue Period painting La Celestina, in which a contemporary Barcelona brothel keeper is portrayed as the infamous procuress of a 15th-century Spanish story.
“In the absence of a defining image of Carmen by Picasso, Ms. Baldassari has chosen to use an embroidered postcard of a beautiful brunette in Sevillana attire for the show’s poster and the cover of its catalog. Other, no less delightfully kitsch, embroidered postcards from Picasso’s collection show popular matadors and Spanish women in folk costumes. The spirit of Carmen becomes more apparent in his bullfighting series, many of which show women as bullfighters, including one of his long-time mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, being tossed by a bull and another of a female matador killed by a bull. In some the woman is represented by a horse being gored by a bull.
“Still, since Picasso portrays himself as a minotaur, he also appears caressing, kissing and seducing women. Then there are engravings in which the minotaur is slain. And if any doubt remains that love and bullfighting are violent affairs, a series of photographs capture moments when matadors are gored and carried out of the ring near death.
“In contrast Picasso’s actual illustrations of “Carmen,” published in 1964 as “Le Carmen des Carmen,” are surprisingly tame. They include watercolors of Carmen, several bullfighters, flowers, a bullfight and abstract geometrical drawings. It is not difficult to conclude that Picasso found the Carmen of his imagination more exciting.
“So does this show shed fresh light on Picasso’s famously tumultuous relationship with women? Only perhaps to suggest there were as many Carmens as there were women in his life, and with the possible exception of his second wife, Jacqueline Roque, who outlived him, he cast each woman as the Carmen he needed at the time.
“A more organic conclusion is offered by the way “Picasso-Carmen” has been organized. Because the Musée Picasso has no large temporary display space, the exhibition is presented in its ordinary galleries. It is therefore easy for visitors accidentally to veer off the official route. And in doing so, they may discover that Carmen is also present elsewhere in his art, not by name, but as an expression of Picasso’s obsession with rebellion and freedom.
“Picasso-Carmen: Sol y Sombra” continues at the Musée Picasso in Paris through June 24; www.musee-picasso.fr.”
Just a final word about the comparative market value of this etching. Four of the Femme Torero prints are highly desirable; the others less so. Although this etching is priced at a small fraction of what the other three highly desirable ones would be, it is still my favorite of them all. There is no more wonderful depiction of an anguished horse in all of Picasso’s oeuvre than in this etching, and I also find the bull phenomenally expressive, all the more remarkably because of its spare line. Marie-Thérèse is also nicely rendered. What explains the higher prices of the comparable etchings? Well, the only highly desirable one of comparable size is Femme Torero, II, (Bloch 220), which though five times as plentiful bears the cachet of inclusion in The Vollard Suite and is often hand-signed. The other two highly desirable etchings are unsigned but are large-scale works (Bloch numbers 1329 and 1330). They, too, are magnificent works, but I prefer the compositions of the two smaller etchings as well as the renderings of the individual subjects therein.