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Sculpteur, Garçon et Modèle avec un Groupe sculpté représentant le Rapt d’Europe (Bloch 165)

1933 (March 30, Paris)

Etching printed on laid Montval with Montgolfier watermark
From the Suite Vollard (S.V. 56), edition of 50 
Signed by the artist in pencil, lower right
Inscribed "317" lower left margin, in pencil; "32" lower right margin, in pencil 
Printed by Lacourière, 1939
Published by Vollard, 1939
Image: 7 3/4 x 10 1/2 inches
Sheet: 15 1/4 x 19 3/4 inches
(Bloch 165) (Baer 318.B.c)

With this in mind, it is appropriate to ask why the raw energy of this particular etching stands apart from its companion pieces. It is likely that the subject matter depicted in the sculptural group—the Rape of Europa—is what provoked such a vigorous response from the artist. In this story, Zeus transforms himself into a white bull in order to abduct a young maiden, swimming away with her to found the nation of Crete. Bulls had always been a source of fascination for Picasso; however, it was only around this time that his interest in the symbolic possibilities of the animal in his work deepened, blossoming into his famed images of the Minotaur—the mythical half-man, half-bull that became his alter-ego in the etchings of the mid-1930s.

 

The present plate was etched in late March of 1933. Picasso was most likely concurrently working on his cover image for the inaugural issue of Albert Skira’s forthcoming journal Minotaure, which was published on June 15. Many scholars agree that this project ignited Picasso’s deep involvement with the tale of the half-man, half-bull (though the story of the Minotaur appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Picasso’s previous project with Skira). In this etching, Picasso begins exploring the origins of the myth—the founding of the island nation of Crete, the Minotaur’s home—marking the artist’s entry point into the intense and dreamlike world that he later explores in the Minotaur etchings.

 

The central tale of the Rape of Europa must have also held some personal resonance with Picasso. The myth of a powerful older man who transforms himself into a bull and sequesters a beautiful young woman on an island for his own pleasure is not totally dissimilar to the story of Picasso and his young mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, depicted at upper right. As if to underscore the parallels between their own story and that of the myth, the sculptor and his model at right counterbalance the figures in the sculpture at left.

 

Picasso must have been aware that this ideal arrangement, reflected in the “Sculptor’s Studio” suite, was getting out of hand. At this point, their affair had been going on for over five years and his attraction to Marie-Thérèse was threatening to overcome him—tempting fate, he had even installed her in an apartment across the street from his family’s quarters. The rational and ordered world that is evoked in the “Sculptor’s Studio” suite begins to unravel here, and the Minotaur appears in the etchings within a number of weeks—a symbol of the powerful impulses he could not control.

 

This image is among the most complex of the “Sculptor’s Studio” etchings. It includes five figures, all of which are intertwined in a complex arrangement of limbs, joined together by extensive garlands that meander throughout the image and almost dominate the composition. By contrast, a majority of the other prints from this theme depict four figures at most, generally in relaxed poses and decorated with tame and controlled greenery.
The current impression is one of fifty signed and numbered 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.