Profil de Marie-Thérèse en abyme, jeune homme au masque de minotaure et vieux aux barbu oreille d'âne
Profil de Marie-Thérèse en abyme, jeune homme au masque de minotaure et vieux aux barbu oreille d'âne (Bloch 279)
1934 (March 7, Paris)
Etching printed on laid paper with 'Richard de Bas' watermark
From the Caisse à remords, edition of 50
Stamp signature, lower right
Numbered 9/50, lower left, in pencil
Printed by Frélaut, 1961
Published by Galerie Louise Leiris, 1981
Image: 8 5/8 x 12 1/4 inches
Sheet: 15 3/4 x 20 inches
Framed: 22 1/8 x 25 5/8 inches
(Bloch 279) (Baer 422.C.b.1)

As its long title suggests, this intaglio etching created on March 7, 1934 in Paris combines several themes that all revolve around the drama of Picasso the artist in relation to his creativity as represented by his muse – the young Marie-Thérèse Walter (1909-77). Picasso’s great love of the late 1920s through the 1930s, Walter inspired some of his most powerful works in all mediums, including a significant body of sculpture. From 1931 to 1934 Picasso produced more sculpture than during any other period of his life, translating his lover’s statuesque figure into monumental busts that fuse male and female attributes in abstracted modeled forms. Here, Walter’s Grecian profile appears to top a naturalistically sculpted bust that presides over an exposition of the artist’s split identity, his muscular naked upper torso supporting on the left the head of a young man who looks out from behind a bull mask and on the right the head of Bacchus represented by a bearded old man with the ears of a donkey who laughingly holds a goblet of wine aloft.   
 
Profil de Marie-Thérèse en abîme, jeune homme au masque de minotaure et vieux barbu aux oreilles d’âne falls in the middle of a short series of engravings created in early 1934 in which Picasso combines the figure of the artist and his muse with his various alter-egos in an overt reflection on his identity. After its first appearance in his work around 1917, the development of his neo-classical style and imagery during the 1920s in tandem with the

more abstracted, fragmenting and distorting style he used for his paintings and sculptures had troubled and puzzled his critics. As the art historian David Lomas has recounted, by the early 1930s Picasso was coming under the scrutiny of such psychoanalysts as Carl Jung (1875-1961), who diagnosed the multiple and fragmented selves visible in Picasso’s graphic work in particular as the symptoms of schizophrenia (David Lomas, The Haunted Self: Surrealism, Psychoanalysis, Subjectivity, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2000, p.127). The notion of an authorial self not unified in a single whole but split into multiple facets was a significant interest of the Surrealists, with whom Picasso allied himself somewhat ambiguously during this period. As a non-national living in France during the interwar years, it was possibly strategic for Picasso to affirm his artistic lineage with the classical antiquity on which French culture was based. At the same time, he could not resist including more subversive elements, subtly visible here in the delicately-drawn head of the bull, and more obviously anarchic in the laughing head of Bacchus. Embraced by the Surrealists as a symbol of the dark force of the 
unconscious with his head of a bull and man’s body, the minotaur features repeatedly in Picasso’s prints of the 1930s. Here the bull’s head appears as youthful as his wearer behind it, suggesting the role (or alter-ego) of a gentle and friendly beast, rather than a ravaging monster. The curling lines of Bacchus’ face and beard echo those used to portray the bearded head of Rembrandt viewed full frontally and drawn in a messy expressive line in the first image of this series of etchings. Through January and February 1934 Picasso mixed the figures of Bacchus or Rembrandt with the neo-classical profile of Marie-Thérèse, suggesting an identification of himself with either of the two male figures – representing respectively lascivious excess or artistic genius – desiring or inspired by his beautiful muse. In all these images, he is looking while she appears focused elsewhere – she is the object of his thoughtful gaze. Indeed for Picasso engraving is all about looking – it is an inherently voyeuristic medium. In this Profil de Marie-Thérèse en abîme the roles are reversed: she watches from the wings while the artist in his three guises – young man, minotaur and Bacchus – takes centre stage, his left eye looking out from behind the bull mask the focal point of the print’s composition. Looking here is theatrical, a playful drama, but it is also deadly serious. Picasso the creator of this image is looking at himself looking back at himself, and this process it witnessed by his very own inspiration and creative muse – his art itself. Hence the title words ‘en abîme’, which evoke a hall of mirrors in which the power of the looking eye rebounds endlessly back and forth. 
 
This is the second of the two states through which Picasso developed his image, working mainly on his representation of Marie-Thérèse. In the first state, as Brigitte Baer comments, she is swathed in a type of cagoule pulled tight around her hair, the side of her face and her neck, giving her the appearance of a kind of ‘hieratic mummy’ (Brigitte Baer, Picasso Peintre-Graveur, Tome II, Kornfeld Editions, Bern 1991, p.284). This is clearly visible in the first state as it precedes the intense cross-hatching that Picasso added in the second state, creating three-dimensional modelling that emphasises her appearance as a statue, transforming the folds of the cagoule into the columnar contours of the neck of a traditional sculpted bust. The dark shadows that cast Walter’s nose, forehead and cheek into relief are balanced by the heavy outlines of Bacchus’ mask-like face and donkey ears on the other side of the print. Walter’s fresh and girlish innocence is emphasised by a garland of little flowers at her hairline that likewise echo the crown of vine leaves that top the head of Bacchus.  
 
Very few impressions were pulled from this plate in either state during the year of its making. In 1961 Jacques Frélaut printed 71 impressions on vergé d’Auvergne Richard de Bas. The Louise Leiris Gallery published an edition of 50 of these in 1981, numbered from 1/50 to 50/50, at the lower left corner in pencil, and stamped with Picasso’s signature. This impression is number nine in the edition. The remaining 21 impressions are artist’s proofs. A further 55 proofs of this print exist, printed on Montval paper (with a Picasso or Vollard watermark) by Roger Lacourière in 1942, which were neither signed nor numbered by the artist.