Pablo Picasso, The Tauromachia, 1934. © Succession Picasso /

16 October 2010 – 27 February 2011 – National Gallery of Denmark – Statens Museum for Kunst

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is a beacon on the art scene of the first half of the 20th century. More than any other artist Picasso would ceaselessly reinvent his art, turning experimentation into his life’s work. His mastery extended to most aspects of art: Painting, sculpture, ceramics, and graphics.
The majority of the Picassos housed at the Royal Collection of Graphic Art hail from the pre-1950s era. As a result, the exhibition Tales from the Labyrinth traces the overall lines of development that characterise his work from the first half of the 20th century, particularly within graphics. One of the themes forming a coherent link through Picasso’s graphic production from the entire period is his treatment of time as a prominent aspect in the works.
The exhibition title Tales from the Labyrinth refers to one of the exhibition highlights: Picasso’s important graphic series the Vollard Suite from the 1930s. The series was created for the art dealer Ambroise Vollard from 1930 to 1937 and comprises a total of 100 prints. The images presented have a highly narrative quality, featuring aspects such as main characters and dramatic climaxes. At the same time, however, the tale has a labyrinthine structure which makes it difficult to piece together a sequence of events, thereby identifying a true beginning and end.

Time is a recurring theme in Picasso’s graphic production until the post-war years. Time is treated as an aspect of the mode of representation and as an aspect of the narratives which the artist has illustrated. The Vollard Suite’s suspension of time appears again in other parts of the artist’s graphic production. His Cubist etchings from the 1910s, which show their subject matter from several angles simultaneously, bring together “before”, “now”, and “after” in a single moment without taking chronological order into consideration. A similar disregard for chronology is evident in the illustrations for Ovid’s metamorphoses from 1930, only now with links to myths about transformations of form and identity.

The bull and bullfighting are fundamental motifs in Picasso’s art. Having depicted bullfighting scenes from an early stage of his career, he engaged with this circle of motifs in earnest from the 1920s onwards. Here, he focused on confrontations between the bull and the horse belonging to the mounted bullfighter, the picador.
The confrontation can take on sexual qualities where the bull is cast in the role of the man and the horse plays the part of the woman, or it may take the form of pointedly highlighted acts of violence.

In the Vollard Suite from the 1930s certain scenes take place in an arena or bullring, but the bull has been replaced by the Minotaur, a figure from Greek mythology who was part man, part bull and dwelled in the labyrinth by the palace at Knossos on Crete. The Minotaur is pitted against a classical sculptor whose studio it invades and with whose model it engages in debaucheries. Taking the form of man-as-bull, the Minotaur represents the untamed, the animal-like.

The fact that Picasso attributed symbolic significance to the bull is also apparent from the political satire The Dream and Lie of Franco, where the bull represents Spain and is repeatedly shown attacking the steed of self-appointed crusader General Franco.

In Picasso’s depictions of bulls from the time following World War II the artist returns to bullfighting again, now with particular emphasis on the kill itself. For the kill, the bullfighter inserts so-called banderillas in the animals’ neck. Other works from the period show that Picasso may have viewed this drama as having symbolic significance; they depict the relationship between man and woman as the relationship between bull and bullfighter in this very situation.

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