The downward-curving figure of the girl in our drawing is closely related to the female matador of the 1934 bullfight etching, as well as to a group of very decorative, stylized, richly curved nudes of 1932 who are characterized by a flat treatment and lively colors. Each of these canvases shows a nude painted in cool tones slumbering on a sofa against an ornamental background combined with flowers and other objects, as, for instance, a luminous red pillow.
Such an ensemble, and the ingratiating round contours, with the head thrown back, give these pictures a particularly joyful, even sensual character; at the same time the expression of the sleeping figures suggests that they are having nightmares. Before these nudes we cannot help being reminded of the nightmarish visions of John Henry Füssli; both are born of dreams. In several later drawings, these hedonistic nudes of Picasso are transported to a realm of terror; they are surrendered to the Minotaur, who rapes the helpless girls in scenes containing details that are clearly reminiscent of the destruction of the horse by the bull.
An important formal link between the nudes and these drawings is a small oil painted as early as 1932, in which the same type of woman appears, leaning on a bearded man. Since, in addition, the Minotaur appears in several vivid drawings of 1936 as the outright enemy and destroyer of the horse, the equation "woman—horse," as it was anticipated decades earlier in the illustrations for the Unknown Masterpiece, finds a new confirmation in connection with the Minotaur theme.
All the dream symbols discussed so far—the bull, the horse, the woman, hybrids, and spectators—as well as some new ones, appear together in the Minotauromachy of 1935, a large etching measuring 19 1/2 by 27 1/4 inches, the most important symbolic work of Picasso prior to Guernica. We shall use it here to explore the possibilities of a coherent interpretation, with the reservation imposed by Picasso himself, in a statement he made that same year: "How can anyone enter into my dreams, my instincts, my desires, my thoughts, which have taken a long time to mature and to emerge into daylight? Above all, who can discover from them what I was really after—perhaps against my will?"
We shall begin with listing the elements of the picture. The scene is laid outdoors, on a beach—a sailboat can be distinguished in the distance. At the left a closed space is formed by a tower-like building and an abutting wall. At the center we find the familiar dying horse with its bowels hanging from its belly; across its back lies the female matador, her eyes closed, her breasts bared, her sword raised in a gesture of self-protection. At the right we see the Minotaur, with the human body, gigantic bull's head, small tail, and claw-like toes that appeared in the 1934 caricature of the monster. He extends his colossal right arm above the central group in the direction of a burning candle held by a little girl standing at the left; in her other hand she holds a bouquet. Behind the girl, a man in a loincloth climbs a ladder; his oversized bearded head is shown in profile, and his gaze is directed to the main action. In a window niche in the tower two women watch a pair of doves on the sill.
While the figure of the Minotaur and the presence of the sea in'the picture undoubtedly refer to the ancient myth and its Cretan origin (moreover Picasso may have been particularly interested in Crete, as the birthplace of EI Greco), the other elements of the composition cannot be traced to any antecedent whatsoever. What can they tell us about Picasso's artistic imagination and its unconscious motivations? Freudian analysts who are chiefly concerned with the latter interpret the bull, the horse, the matador, and the two doves as symbols of sexual events, and the contemplative figures of the little girl who watches these events with astonishment, and of the bearded man who is running away from them to a higher world, as disguises of the painter himself.
More generally, psychoanalysts account for many elements in Picasso's. art, and even for the changes of style, by postulating childhood trauma. Even granting that there is an intimate connection between artistic activity and sexual behavior, such an interpretation leaves the actual phenomenon of art out of account. Picasso's symbols—like those of Chagall—may derive from archaic and sexual elements, but having been transferred to the domain of art, they are subject to different laws. "A work of art is more than the motives which called it into being," as one Freudian interpreter says correctly in an otherwise abortive study of Picasso's works.
Jungian psychology casts considerable light on the contents of the etching, but inevitably hits wide of the mark when it attempts to combine the dream elements into a logical system, which can be explained in rational terms. The interpretation given by Curt G. Seckel, which we sum up here, deserves consideration though it suffers from the same drawback. According to Seckel, the Minotauromachy symbolizes the Jungian "journey to Hades," and its action is an encounter between the luminous daylight world and the dark underworld. The same symbolism can be found in the Spanish bullfight. The Minotaur embodies the irrational violence of the unconscious depths. The horse and the matador are symbols of the world of justice and reason; they embody the female principle and are thus interchangeable. The little girl with the light and the flowers is an image of what is best and purest in man—his creative soul. Guiltless and invulnerable, she knows nothing of "the self-conscious seduction by the pure idea, nor of the fascination of the powers of darkness"; she is a symbol of "man restored to his wholeness." The burning candle in her hand stands for the highest Eros, whose shining light pierces the darkness; the Minotaur's colossal hand tries vainly to ward off this light. "The creative act of the eternal marriage between light and darkness is brought to. life in its full complexity in this picture."
Couched in such general terms, this interpretation sounds convincing enough. We may paraphrase it for our own purposes as follows: Picasso represents the defeat of vulnerable, highly organized forces by the overwhelming forces of barbarism. He pictures the former in female symbols, and the latter in the male symbol of the bull-headed monster which draws its strength from the untamed depths of sexuality. Thus Picasso is testifying to his high respect both for the female principle and the virile forces of his own nature. The Guernica will show that these symbols may also stand for much more comprehensive human experiences. The little girl's serene confidence unquestionably embodies a supreme value that mankind has retained in the desperate crisis of our age. The women with the doves and the man on the ladder reflect on the action without intervening in it. The man, as contrasted with the child, is insecure; his immobile head, loosely joined to the body, indicates a high capacity for intellectual knowledge.
Such an interpretation does not imply that the Minotauromachy was composed in a spirit of cold calculation, which would be incompatible with the artistic unity of the work. At the same time, however, we must keep in mind that the artist who uses symbols which originate in the unconscious elaborates them by processes which are in part rational, and that their original contents undergo profound changes before they are revealed in the work of art.
In addition to contributing to our insight into the creative process, the Minotauromachy, like the works of the Blue and the Rose Periods, clearly refutes the thesis, frequently advanced, that Picasso and his art are "soulless." The inwardness of the child, the dreaminess of the matador, the meditativeness of the spectators, the horror in the face of the horse, and even the dark fury of the Minotaur are deeply felt expressions of the psyche.
Between 1935 and 1937 Picasso went through a long fallow period (he had experienced a similar one in 1927), during which he composed some of his Surrealist poems. The Dream and Lie of Franco, etched in January 1937, is also half-literary in character: the plates are accompanied by a satirical poem, and the arrangement of the little scenes is like that of an American comic strip. The occasion for this work was the Spanish Civil War, which broke out in the summer of 1936. Picasso, who until then had shown no interest in politics, now became a resolute champion of the Loyalists; he even accepted the directorship of the Prado (in this case a directorship in name only), and sold several paintings for the benefit of Republican Spain. He produced this series of etchings to serve as propaganda against the Franco government. They cover two plates done in aquatint. Each plate is divided into nine scenes; only five scenes of the second plate belong to the Franco cycle.
The symbols of the bull and of the horse appear here in conjunction with a Surrealist figure which stands for Franco and, with changing emblems, occurs in several variations. We are particularly interested, in anticipation of our discussion of Guernica, in the relation of this figure to the horse and to the bull. The very first scene shows a belligerent Franco astride a horse whose bowels hang from its belly in the manner familiar to us. In the eighth scene too he is shown torturing the winged horse and driving a lance through its body. In the tenth scene, the winged horse, body torn open, is dying at Franco's feet.
In the twelfth, a white horse, obviously dead, lies on the ground; under it we see the bearded head of the man on the ladder in the Minotauromachy. It is worth noting that this twelfth scene is in obvious parallel to the eleventh, which shows a landscape with a dead woman: in other words, here too horse and woman are equated. The bull appears for the first time in the fifth scene, as a dangerous adversary of Franco, who succumbs to it in the last two scenes. In the very last one, whose arrangement is strikingly reminiscent of the etching of 1927, Franco surprisingly assumes the shape of a horse, though he retains his characteristic head.
Now it is he who dies as horses die in the bullfight arena. In all the other scenes the horse is pictured as a creature tormented by Franco, while the bull is always unmistakably his superior in strength. We shall have to take these facts into account in the interpretation of Guernica, to which the last four scenes of the second plate of the Franco series are closely related.
Pablo Picasso, Cubism, Pablo Picasso Biography, Picasso Paintings, Picasso Drawings, The Blue Nude, Don Quixote, Enamel Saucepan, Evening Flowers, Femme A La Fleur, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Spanish Art, The Dream, The Pigeons, Guernica, Musse, Bull with Bullfighter, Mediterranean Landscape, Nude and Still Life, Toros y Toreros, Mother and Child, Girl with Red Beret, Frau Mit Turban, The Bathers, The Lesson, The Old Guitarist, Three Bathers, Violin and Guitar, Lovers, Evening Flowers, The Kitchen