Bacchanale au Hibou et au Jeune Homme masqué
Bacchanale au Hibou et au Jeune Homme masqué (Bloch 777)

1955 (September 23, Cannes)

Etching printed on tinted Arches wove with Arches watermark
From the Caisse à remords 
One of nineteen artist's proofs from the edition of 69
Inscribed "Provenance Atelier Lacourière vendu non signée 6-23-5.95 Frélaut Bloch 777" in pencil,  verso lower right
Printed by Frélaut, 1961
Image: 10 1/8 x 12 inches
Sheet: 14 3/4 x 20 1/2 inches
Framed: 21 5/8 x 22 15/16 inches
(Bloch 777) (Baer 952.B.b.2)

In April 1955 Picasso purchased an ornate fin-de-siècle villa named La Californie in the hills above Cannes, with views of Antibes and the Golfe-Juan, moving in with his new mistress, Jacqueline Roque, an attractive young woman with his large brilliant dark eyes and short stocky build, whom he had met at the Madoura pottery workshop in Vallauris in 1952. After a period of mourning the departure of his previous lover of ten years, Françoise Gilot, with their two children in autumn 1953, Picasso was now able to reaffirm his love of life, and particularly the Mediterranean, in the light airy spaces of his new home. His return to the south of France after the end of the war in 1945 had stimulated a renewal of interest in the theme of the Bacchanale: images produced in the mid-1945s had celebrated the exuberant joie de vivre of the artist in love with the beautiful Françoise forty years his junior. When he returned to the theme in 1955—this time inspired by his love for Jacqueline—the atmosphere, though celebratory, was not surprisingly a little darker.

 

Bacchanale au hibou et au jeune homme masqué is the last of a group of five etchings on the theme of the Bacchanale that Picasso created between 17 and 23 September 1955. All center on a naked couple—a bearded muscular man supporting a voluptuous woman with his right arm. As its title indicates, this print features a young man with a mask—a figure that also appears in the second etching in the group. Over the course of the first four images, the festive scene of the Bacchanale develops from a celebratory dance to the music of the diaule or double-flute, played by a flautist in the first, third and fourth prints, to the scene of a seduction. Under the effects of the drunken revelry, the female figure, whose profile is unmistakably that of Jacqueline in the second image, becomes increasingly intoxicated, falling into a swoon in the third image, Bacchanale au flûtist. The potential threat to her virtue posed by the man is graphically expressed in a closely related print also made on September 18 entitled Le rapt (the abduction) (Bloch 775), in which her unconscious naked body lies splayed in a pose of sexual vulnerability over the his lap. But love—represented by the figure of Eros—saves her in the fourth print, as she is shown reviving from her swoon. Bacchanale au hibou et au jeune homme masqué depicts the culmination of the effects of Eros on the darker theme of erotic seduction. No longer an entity separate from her lover, as was suggested by the arch of her back away from him in the earlier images, she has become entwined around him, her torso contained within his, one arm reaching up to join with one of his and cradle his bearded head. The harmony and tenderness of this moment is reflected in the balance of the composition; while the couple are watched by the masked young man to their left, they are also being witnessed by an old man holding an owl to their right—indeed their interlocking eyes and lips, framed by their raised arms, constitute the central focal point of the gazes of the watching protagonists to either side.

 

Roland Penrose, Picasso’s lifelong friend and biographer, has written of the importance that the owl had for the artist: ‘Owls and doves, two birds of such different nature, were his lifelong companions. They both had a significance for him which bordered on superstition. The owl with its rounded head and piercing stare seems to resemble Picasso himself.’i The owl’s appearance in Picasso’s work dates from his earliest print, El Zurdo (1899), in which this bird is found at the picador’s feet. During his stay in Antibes during the late 1940s, an injured owl was brought to the artist and, keeping it with him, ‘he began once more to be fascinated by its strange aloof behavior and to introduce it into his paintings, his lithographs and later his ceramics’.ii Ten years later, at the time he created Bacchanale au hibou et au jeune homme masqué, he had another small owl in a cage in his studio, and ‘he told how once, while he was painting at night, a large bird of the same race flew in at the window and after battering itself against the glass, perched on top of the canvas on which he was at work. It had come, he thought, to prey on his pigeons that flew at liberty from the terrace outside the window during the day.’iii

 

A fearsome night predator, the owl may embody some of the attributes that were brought together for the artist in the figure of the Minotaur. Half man, half bull, this terrifying figure who had to be appeased with the flesh of young men and women appealed to the artist’s sense of himself as monstrous—or at least as having an animal nature. During the early 1930s, Picasso created numerous representations of himself as the Minotaur in thrall to his beautiful young mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter. While Bacchanale au hibou et au jeune homme masqué represents the happiness of Picasso’s union with Jacqueline, the features of the woman also bear a strong resemblance to those of Marie-Thérèse. The neo-classical style of drawing, and the equally youthful features of the man recall the artist’s self-representation in his Minotaur images in the early 1930s, suggesting that it is a younger self entwined in love’s mythic embrace, while the older, more predatory self—represented by the combined figures of the old man and the owl perched on his hand—watches from the wings. Picasso was to develop this theme to an extraordinary level of virtuosity in his graphic works at the end of the next decade.

 

Only two impressions of Bacchanale au hibou et au jeune homme masqué were pulled when the plate was created in 1955. This impression is one of nineteen artist’s proofs printed on tinted Arches wove by Frélaut in 1961; it is annotated ‘Provenance Atelier Lacourière vendu non signée 6-23-5.95 Frélaut Bloch 777’ on the verso at the lower right, in pencil.

 

 

i Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, London 1958, pp.360-1.
ii Ibid, p.360
iii Ibid.