Gagosian Show Explores Picasso’s Career-Long Love for Matadors and Minotaurs
With more than 120 works, the exhibition takes a close look at the cultural influences of the artist's native Spain.
In “Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors” at London’s Gagosian Gallery, Sir John Richardson has curated an exhibition exploring Picasso’s longtime fascination with the myths and traditions of his native Spain—in particular, the matador and the minotaur.
The show, which opened last week, is museum-sized: 120 works from 1889 to 1971 are on view, including paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints, ceramics, and a home movie made in 1929.
Picasso frequently attended bullfights throughout his life, and their influence bled into his practice. Matadors, picadors, bulls, and horses were recurring motifs throughout his work, including his earliest known surviving painting: Le Petit Picador (1889), which shows a picador on a horse, and was composed when the artist was only eight years of age.
Richardson often accompanied Picasso to bullfights in the south of France, and told the The Guardian that despite being surrounded by “screaming and clapping and cheering, Picasso just sat there, absolutely still, not making any sound but just taking it all in. Occasionally he would make a remark.”
“Picasso said to me once: ‘Those horses, they’re the women in my life,’” Richardson recounted. “Throughout his life there was a thing of women being sacrificed to feed his art. His record with wives and mistresses and girlfriends is pretty rugged and a lot of women had to suffer for the sake of his art.”
Though the link to women is not made explicit in the Gagosian exhibition, Picasso’s rocky relationship with his romantic partners has been of well-known historic significance, and thus the association with unbridled horses is not hard to draw.
Moreover, the theme of the minotaur is woven throughout his oeuvre. Picasso began making work related to the Spanish cult of the bull in the 1930s, during a time of political upheaval. It influenced masterpieces such as La Minotauromachie (1935) and Guernica (1937). The artist continued to revisit the myth after moving back to the Mediterranean in the 1940s.
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