Femme Torero
Femme Torero (Bloch 1329)
1934 (June 12, Paris)
Etching printed on Montval paper with Montval watermark
From the edition of 50
Inscribed "mardi 12 juin, Paris xxxiv" in plate
Printed by Lacourière, 1939
Image: 19 1/2 x 27 1/8 inches
Sheet: 22 1/4 x 30 1/4 inches
Framed: 32 1/2 x 39 3/4 inches
(Bloch 1329) (Baer 425.C)

In the mid-1930s, Picasso made a handful of etchings that center around the bullfight, depicting a bull, a horse, and a beautiful young female toreador who distinctly resembles his mistress at the time, Marie-Thérèse Walter. The bullfight was a passion of the artist throughout his life and these etchings were not his first foray into the theme—as noted by Museum of Modern Art curator Deborah Wye, a picador was the subject of Picasso’s first print of 1899 and he explored the bullfight throughout his career.i The subject of such works range from straightforward gestural expressions of the drama and action of the conflict to highly metaphorical images that explore his private inner life, as in Femme Torero. Dernier Baiser?

 

In 1934, Picasso was in his mid-50s and was likely experiencing a sort of mid-life crisis. His relationship with his wife, Olga Khokhlova—a former ballet dancer from Ukraine—was extremely strained and had been so for years. Though a striking beauty in her youth, she was now somewhat ravaged by years of health problems, poor diet, anxiety attacks, and obsessive coffee-drinking. Meanwhile, his long-term liaison with his mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, was beginning to disintegrate and she would soon reveal to him that she was pregnant (according to Picasso scholar Brigitte Baer, it was just before Christmas of 1934). Though Picasso biographer John Richardson suggests that Olga may have been aware of the affair as early as 1929 and had come to accept it, the truce was tenuous and Picasso feared that his wife’s wrath could descend at any moment.ii In addition to his romantic entanglements, Picasso had been struggling with self-doubt as a result of mixed critical responses to his mid-career retrospectives in Paris and Zurich in 1932.iii He was beginning to feel that his life was spinning out of control.

 

The stress of Picasso’s situation is present in Femme Torero. Dernier Baiser? and a number of other similar images of the period. Each of them reflects a slightly different emotional landscape through both narrative and style, but the players are the same. As interpreted by a number of scholars, Picasso used the figure of the bull to represent himself, while the female toreador—who traditionally rides on horseback for protection—represents Marie-Thérèse. The horse stands for his wife Olga.iv The chaotic and confusing triangle is echoed in the jumbled limbs of the players and the etching’s swirling composition. The viewer struggles, like the figures in the image, to make sense of the scene. Elaborate details—the bull’s mane, the toreador’s embroidered costume, and the strained musculature of the horse lend a sense of confusion and reflect the complicated nature of the situation. As the viewer unravels the scene, it becomes clear that the powerful bull is drawn irresistibly to the beautiful toreador, who will be his downfall. In the midst of the chaos of the struggle, he gives her a gentle kiss. The toreador seems equally a victim of the situation—her body twists throughout the composition as if caught up in a whirlwind and her surprised expression and torn clothing add to the overall effect. The horse strains under the weight of their embrace; her emaciated frame recalls that of the extremely thin Olga. Each seems to be dealing with forces beyond their control—a tangled web that would end in demise for them all.

 

Picasso anticipated the implosion of his personal life by several months, even a year. In July of 1935, Olga learned that Marie-Thérèse was pregnant and promptly left Picasso, taking their teenage son, Paulo. Picasso’s reputation in the bourgeois social circle he shared with Olga suffered a severe blow and he was anguished over the loss of his son. After a difficult legal process, Picasso and Olga determined to remain married but separated. The stress of these events caused him to give up making art for a period; he instead devoted his energies to writing surrealist poetry. In addition, Picasso’s interest in Marie-Thérèse waned once she was a mother, though he took care of her and their daughter Maya throughout his life. Picasso would later refer to this phase as the darkest period in his life.v In etchings like Marie-Thérèse en femme torero (Bloch 220), it is almost as if he could clearly see the outcome ahead but was unable to stop it.

 

Like a number of prints from this period, including the Suite Vollard, the printing and publication of this etching is complicated. After a small number of proof impressions were taken in 1934 (signed), an edition of fifty to fifty-five on laid Montval was printed in April of 1939 by Roger Lacourière, a few months before death of Vollard (who was Picasso’s publisher). The unsigned edition was then purchased by Fabiani, Vollard’s protégé and executor, along with a number of other paintings and editions. Georges Bloch acquired a few impressions eventually and these were signed, but a majority of the impressions remained unsigned and were not released until Picasso’s death in 1973.

 

i A Picasso Portfolio: Prints from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010, 62.
ii A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-32 [New York: Random House Digital, 2007], 383.
iii See ibid., 492-3, 498-500.
iv See Bernhard Geiser and Brigitte Baer, rev., Picasso peintre-graveur, vol. 2 [Bern: Editions Kornfeld, 1990-2], 292; and Deborah Wye, A Picasso
Portfolio: Prints from The Museum of Modern Art [New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2010], 63-6).
v See Baer, Picasso the Engraver: Selections from the Musée Picasso, Paris [New York: Thames and Hudson and The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
1997], 41.