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Scène bacchique au Minotaure (Bloch 192)

1933 (May 18, Paris)

Etching printed on Montval laid paper with Montgolfier watermark
From the Suite Vollard (S.V. 85), edition of 50 from the third (final) state; after steelfacing
Signed by the artist in pencil, lower right
Inscribed "355" lower left, in pencil
Printed by Lacourière, 1939
Published by Vollard, 1939
Image: 11 3/4 x 14 3/8 inches
Sheet: 15 1/4 x 19 3/4 inches
Framed: 22 1/2 x 24 3/8 inches
(Bloch 192) (Baer 351.III.B.c)

As Picasso delved further into his exploration of the Minotaur (this is the third plate to appear in the Suite Vollard), the scene in the studio becomes increasingly unfettered. Here, the beast and his counterpart, the sculptor, completely immerse themselves in pleasures of the flesh—wine, women, and repose. While the sculptor (in the form of a massive sculpted head) dominated the previous etching in the series, the Minotaur takes command of the scene here, dwarfing his human counterpart and raising his glass in a grand and encompassing gesture.

 

The two male figures have been traditionally understood to represent the two sides of the artist’s personality and Picasso emphasizes this idea in the poses of the two female models, which compliment and mirror one another. These passive and purely sexual beings are both clearly the same woman, Picasso’s mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter. As noted by Museum of Modern Art curator Deborah Wye, man and beast are additionally visually linked by a profusion of body hair and by the “compositional distortion of the Minotaur’s right leg, extending into the bottom center”.i She also points out that the sculptor has lost his crown of laurel in this image—a traditional symbol of valor in the Roman Empire.

 

This and the previous plate in the series are rare examples of Picasso showing both sides of his personality in one image, reminiscent of the classic tale of Jekyll and Hyde. The idea may have also been inspired by Freud’s theory of the id, ego, and super-ego. The nascent science of psychoanalysis was highly influential for the Surrealists and though Picasso generally did not associate himself with the movement, he was surely familiar with its basic tenets.

 

While earlier images of the sculptor and his model also suggest post-coital repose, it is of a much more refined nature. The complete abandon and sultry atmosphere of this image makes it one of the more purely and openly sexual scenes in the history of art, confounding several centuries of convention and restraint in the depiction of physical love. Picasso’s unbridled expression of this largely unspoken and private side of human existence remains revelatory, even in the current age of media saturation.

 

The current impression is one of fifty deluxe impressions with large margins printed on Montval laid paper watermarked “Papeterie Montgolfier à Montval,” outside of the edition of 260 (there was also a small edition of three). It was printed by Roger Lacourière in late 1938 or early 1939. The untimely death of Ambroise Vollard in the summer of 1939 delayed their commerce until 1948 when the prints were acquired by dealer Henri Petiet through the Vollard estate.

 

 

i A Picasso Portfolio: Prints from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010, 50.