Taureau et Cheval dans l'Arène
Taureau et Cheval dans l'Arène (Bloch 84)

1929 (probably Paris)
Etching printed on Rives wove paper
From the edition of 340
Printed by Fort, 1931
Published by Vollard as an illustration for Balzac's "Le Chef-d'Oeuvre Inconnu", Paris, 1931
Image: 7 x 5/8 inches
Sheet: 9 5/6 x 12 2/3 inches

Framed: 21 3/8 x 22 1/8 inches

(Bloch 84) (Baer 125.b) (Cramer 20)

This etching appeared in the 1931 publication of Honoré de Balzac’s short story Le Chef-d’oeuvre Inconnu (The Unknown Masterpiece). The tale follows an antihero painter named Frenhofer whose masterwork, which he completes after years of searching for the proper model, is misunderstood by his peers, careening him into despair and eventual suicide. Picasso’s illustrations do not correlate to the story line, but rather seem to be centered around his own meditations on artistic genius and creativity in relation to his model, which he equated with the passion of lovemaking. In general, the plates depict the artist at work in his studio with a model.


In spite of the tenuous connection between illustrations and text in Le Chef-d’oeuvre Inconnu, this image seems particularly out of place. Deborah Wye, Senior Curator of Prints at The Museum of Modern Art, surmises that it was originally intended for Picasso’s unrealized book on bullfighting that was originally commissioned in the late 1920s (the project was later revived and completed in 1959 under the title La Tauromaquia), though she notes that it is unclear why it was included in Le Chef-d’oeuvre Inconnu, perhaps due to rivalry between Vollard and newcomer Alfred Skira, who was also publishing another book by Picasso at the same time.i


The pairing of a bull and a horse is a common theme in Picasso’s bullfighting images, which appear throughout his career. Here, Picasso chose to depict the horse in a non-traditional role (customarily role as a mount for the picador), provoking questions in the viewer’s mind. Is this simply a moment in which the horse and bull are isolated within the drama of a bullfight, or is this an allegorical scene? It is generally understood that Picasso used the bull and the Minotaur as stand-ins for the artist himself, and the horse here seems to be in a submissive role, perhaps a symbol of his new young lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter. In any case, it is a fine example of his crisp linear style of the 1930s, and Picasso’s talent for conveying volume, emotion, and action with the sparest of detail is quite evident in this elegant image.


This impression is from the edition of 340 printed on Rives wove by Louis Fort for the book publication, issued in 1931 by Ambroise Vollard. There was also a deluxe edition of sixty-five printed on Japon impériale paper. The book, which was issued unbound, included thirteen original etchings, printed on separate sheets of paper aside from the text (hors-texte). It also included sixteen woodcuts (hors-texte) and sixty-six woodcut illustrations in the text, by Aubert after Picasso’s drawings.