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Picasso's Decade-Long Obsession with the Minotaur

  • Edward Quinn - Picasso as minotaur
June 24, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The modern art was revolutionary for many things – the presence of various groups and movements, techniques, the specific choice of themes, etc. The artists were influenced by various phenomena, as they found their inspiration in literature, philosophy or mythology. One of the most prominent figures of modernism who constructed his grand oeuvre out of various references was indeed Pablo Picasso.

This artist is primarily known for the inauguration of Cubism, which is certainly the most influential early 20th-century art movement. Aside from a highly innovative technique and approach to the matters of structure and form, Picasso’s practice was marked by the recurrent presence of the figure of the Minotaur. A huge number of paintings, sculptures were focused around this fascinating mythical creature, so it is not strange that a notable number of essays was published on this particular subject.

A spectacular survey on the relationship between Picasso and Minotaur is about to happen at the Palais Lumière in Evian. Under the title Picasso, the Minotaur’s studio, this exhibition attempts to reveal a lasting interest in the representation of this figure not only through the works of Picasso but the works of other artists as well. Over one hundred paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawings, engravings, and tapestries, will display the interpretation and articulation of the myth of Minotaur in Picasso’s oeuvre and other approaches through a historical perspective.

Pablo Picasso - At the Pythie-Harpie
Pablo Picasso – At the Pythia-Harpie. Man at Minotaur mask and woman with mask sculptor, November 19, 1934. Aquatint and etching, 24.8 x 34.8 cm. Sylvie Mazo Collection © Picasso Succession 2018. Photo © Bouquinerie of the Institute

The Picasso Minotaur Connection

The presence of Minotaur in Pablo Picasso’s oeuvre is not surprising at all, since the bull as an animal is the constitutive element of the Spanish culture; the artist was fascinated with rituals related with this animal such as bullfighting and the running of the bulls. Aside from its symbolical meaning of strength and boldness, the representation of the Minotaur was perceived as the expression of the power of irrationality and the force of the unconscious.

This image had first appeared in a collage from 1928, and since then it became a recurrent motif in the work of Pablo Picasso. Apparently, the artist perceived himself as the Minotaur, a creature of huge physical power and sexual energy, which suited his need for expressing the male principal in all of its glory. He somehow saw the battle in corrida through the prism of his own relationships with women; it was the archetypal image of the struggle between Eros and Thanatos.

On the other hand, it is also important to point out that the bull is a rebellious and durable animal eager to resist the attacker which is relevant in the light of Picasso’s political engagement and reaction on the rising Fascism in the 1930s.

For instance, the impressive Minotauromachy series reflect what is stated above well. Besides paintings and sculptures (quite famous is the Bull’s Head from 1942), the artist’s Minotaur appeared on the cover of a new magazine called The Minotaur.

Left Henri Matisse - Song of Minos Right Pablo Picasso - Mask of Minotaur
Left: Henri Matisse – Engraving illustrating Henri’s text of Montherlant Pasiphae, Song of Minos (The Cretan), Paris, Martin Fabiani, 1944. Sylvie Mazo Collection © H. Matisse Succession. Photo © Bouquinerie of the Institute / Right: Pablo Picasso – Mask of Minotaur, 1958. Oil on wood, 85 x 53.5 cm. Private collection © Picasso Succession 2018 © Claude Germain Photography

The Highlights of The Exhibition

Picasso behind the mask of the Minotaur is the title of the first segment centered around the images of Picasso dressed as the Minotaur, while the second segment based on the illustrated timeline shows the crucial events in the literary development of the myth and so it is titled The myth and the artistic history of the myth.

The following one reflects the artist’s relations with his lovers expressed through the painting Picasso Minotaur and the Seven Women of the Labyrinth. The fourth segment reveals how Neoclassical painters perceived and represented half human, half bull.

Looking chronologically, works from the second half of the 19th century in which Minotaur is being represented will be displayed in the fifth segment. Under the title, The Minotaur on the theater curtain (first half of 20th century) the section will show Picasso’s interest in theater and affiliation with the Ballets Russes through which he came upon Antiquity and especially the mythical creature of Minotaur.

The seventh part, titled Picasso-Minotaur between the wars, reveals the initial emergence of this motif and the artist’s fascination for the ancient phenomenon of bullfighting; that interest of his was simultaneous with archaeological discoveries of in the 1920s. The eight will focus on the magazine Minotaur, led by Albert Skira in between 1933 to 1939, in which some of Picasso’s works were published.

The last segment called The Sacrifice will rotate around various meanings of sacrifice in regards to the heroic image of Picasso killing a bull in a large drawing.

Pablo Picasso - Present day Minotaur
Pablo Picasso (after) – Present day Minotaur, 1935. Lacy and silk tapestry, 147 x 237 cm. Manufacture of Goblins © Picasso Succession 2018 © RMN

Pablo Picasso at the Palais Lumière

This astounding exhibition shows how the modern artists were in accordance with their times; how their interests in certain subjects coincided with the latest scientific discoveries. It also contributes to a better understanding of the importance of this particular motif in the work of one of the icons of art history.

The Picasso Minotaur story of will be shown at the Palais Lumière in a French city of Evian from 30 June until 7 October 2018.

The exhibition is a part of the international Picasso-Mediterranean program (2017-2019) and it would not be possible without a great number of loans from other institutions as well as the support of the Picasso Committee. Picasso, the Minotaur’s studio will be accompanied by an extensively illustrated book of the same title edited by the curator Olivier Le Bihan and published by Somogy Editions.

Featured image: Edward Quinn – Picasso wearing a mask bull in raffia, 1959. Photography Musée National Picasso, Paris © Picasso succession 2018 © Edwardquinn.com; Pablo Picasso – Minotaur and naked, December 12 1933. Charcoal on paper, 47.5 x 62 cm. Private collection © Picasso Succession 2018 © Claude Germain Photography; Pablo Picasso – The Minotauromachie, 1935. Etching, scraper and chisel, 49.4 x 69.3 cm. Sylvie Mazo Collection © Picasso Succession 2018. Photo © Bouquinerie of the Institute. All images courtesy Palais Lumiere Evian.