Bulls and bullfighting are everywhere in Picasso’s work, and this fascination spanned the length of his career, from early portraits of matadors to his later work where the impact of age and sexual frustrations manifested themselves in endless drawings of women being ravished by minotaurs.
Picasso loved bulls. They represent the very essence of virile Spanish masculinity. He loved their energy, their snorting nostrils, and their ferocity. And he also loved manipulating their obvious sexual connotations. And more than this, the bull often became Picasso in his works, a representation of himself both as the Spaniard, and the man with a voracious sexual appetite and an insatiable lust for women.
And all of this is captured in this wonderful and impressive new show at Gagosian, which examines Picasso’s enduring interest in these themes. Paintings, drawings, ceramics, photos… Even home-made films of the Master painting flawless bulls at the flick of his wrist. The scope of the works on display, many drawn from private collections, is remarkable.
And, yes, there’s plenty of the ravished women. I particularly adored Le femme torero, 1934, where a bull and a female nude collide with such passion, with such force, that their bodies merge into one – the limbs of the voluptuous woman flung akimbo by the rampaging bull. The sexual potency and sensuality in the drawing is palpable.
But I also loved more technical drawings too, such as the impressive series of drawings Picasso completed across Christmas and New Year in 1945-6, where traditional realistic sketches of bulls progressed and developed into something far more radical. A demonstration of both Picasso’s flawless draughtsmanship, but also his unparalleled vision.
And the speed blows your mind too. Some of these drawings and paintings are dated with a single day. That Picasso could just turn out such wonderful works in the time it probably takes to write this review… the guy was simply on a different level – and it’s always important to acknowledge that. We can take it for granted too often.
The Gagosian has been radically reconfigured for this show, with the curation coming from Sir John Richardson, who is an esteemed art historian and Picasso biographer, (The guy also has a KBE for services to art) with further work on the installation coming from ubiquitous architecture firm, Caruso St. John. But here’s the thing – if there is one element that lets down the show, it is the curation and installation.
Gone are the large spaces and bright, white walls and – in their place – comes moody lighting, heavy olive green drapes, and vitrines and cabinets with wood frames. It is twee, it is dated, and, crucially, does not work with Picasso’s well-deserved reputation for modernity, for breaking the rules, for challenging convention. Taking radical, provocative works and sticking them in such an old-fashioned and antiquated setting is counter-intuitive and is a disappointment.
Nevertheless, this aside, there are some glorious works on display here, and together they demonstrate how Picasso’s fascination and passion for bulls and matadors endured. I never tire of Picasso’s works – I could admire them for a lifetime. A voraciously sexual and passionate show from a Master.
Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, London, to August 25, 2017
1 Minotaure dans une barque sauvant une femme, March 1937 (Paris)India ink and gouache on paperboard 8 5⁄8 × 10 5⁄8 inches (22 × 27 cm) Private Collection© 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Gagosian. Photo: Eric Baudouin
2 Le taureau, June 30, 1949Red chalk on wove paper20 1⁄8 × 26 inches (51 × 66 cm) Private collection © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Gagosian. Photo: Marc Domage
3 Barque de naïades et faune blessé December 31, 1937. Oil and charcoal on canvas18 1⁄8 × 21 5⁄8 inches (46 × 55 cm) Private Collection© 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Gagosian. Photo: Maurice Aeschimann