Le Picador
Le Picador (Bloch 692)

1952 (June 18, Paris)

Aquatint printed on Arches wove with Arches watermark
From the edition of 50
Signed by the artist in pencil, lower right
Numbered 46/50 in pencil, lower left
Printed by Lacourière, 1952
Published by Louise Leiris Galerie, 1952
Image: 18 x 21 3/4 inches
Sheet: 21 1/4 x 25 7/8 inches
Framed: 28 x 31 inches
(Bloch 692) (Baer 894 B.b.1)

An integral part of Picasso’s life as a small child in Malaga, the corrida is one of his oldest themes. Picasso drew bulls, picadors and matadors from an early age, and when he created his first etching in 1899, it was the representation of a picador, albeit back-to-front. Not realizing that he needed to create his image in reverse for the printing process, he drew the lance in the picador’s wrong hand, resulting in the title El Zurdo (the left-handed one). These works were the prelude to countless drawings, prints and paintings made throughout the artist’s long life in which he explored every aspect of the bull, the bullfighter and the bullring. The years following the Second World War, when Picasso returned to the sunny Mediterranean after his war-time exile in Paris, led to a particularly rich period in the artist’s exploration of this theme. The grouping of the three figures in Le Picador—the picador, his horse and the bull—is one that Picasso repeated many times. All depict the picador on horseback on the left side of the image formally entangled with the bull on the right. Le Picador develops this with the two main protagonists confronting each other face-to-face, before the first stab of the picador’s lance into the bull’s shoulder that fatally joins the combatants in their struggle to the death. Presenting a moment in a ritualized drama that is almost mythic in its intensity, this unusual rendition emphasizes the picador’s humanity and the bull’s vital emotive force. To create this print, Picasso used sugar-lift aquatint, a technique that he had learned in Paris in 1933 from the master printer Roger Lacourière, with whom he had an extraordinarily productive collaboration during the 1930s. Utilizing a syrupy mixture of sugar and ink, Picasso painted on the copperplate directly before applying the acid by hand, resulting in an image that has an inky, painterly quality. At the same time as creating a smudged look with many of his brushstrokes, Picasso effectively conveys the expressive detail of the picador’s face viewed in profile, even showing his earring and the scarf that binds his hair underneath his traditional hat. Similarly the decorative rows of buttons trimming his jacket and breeches are described, as is the sensitivity of the horse’s ears and nose as the picador points its blind head towards the lethal horns of the angry bull. Behind the horse and picador, the crowd of onlookers is indicated with a mass of painterly daubs, from which a single man’s head emerges in the space between the horse and the bull, above the phallic tip of the picador’s lance. This bearded face arising from the arena wall is very similar to the one depicted in the etching Taureau et Picador (Baer 893) that Picasso made the day before Le Picador (on 18 June 1952). The artist often portrayed himself with a beard, so it is tempting to imagine him inserting himself into his corrida scenes, enthralled with the bloody spectacle.

 

Picasso’s biographer Roland Penrose has written that, apart from his enjoyment of the action, ‘the main involvement for Picasso was not so much with the parade and the skill of the participants but with the ancient ceremony of the precarious triumph of man over beast ... The man, his obedient ally the horse, and the bull were all victims of an inextricable cycle of life and death.’i During the late 1940s, Picasso created several lithographs and etchings depicting the bull’s huge physical presence and emphasizing its raw masculine power. Although, as its title indicates, Le Picador focuses on the picador rather than the bull, the head and neck of this powerful animal carry all the force of the rest of its body that is cropped by the edge of the page. The detail of the bull’s nose and glaring black eye are clearly visible from underneath a mass of black ink, demonstrating its life and vigor, while it’s sharply pointed horns, angled directly at the horse’s neck and shoulders, and at the picador’s saddled groin, are latent with physical aggression. Le Picador utilizes a painterly vocabulary, pared-down to the minimum of brush-strokes with virtuoso expressive style. The head and shoulders of the bull cropped by the edge of the page in Le Picador reappear as a mask worn by a man in later image, including Le jeu du taureau (1954, Bloch 751). In vital partnership with the bull, the picador stands as an emblem of man’s skill and cunning—faculties that must be employed in opposition to the artist’s other wilder self.

 

Le Picador was printed in Paris in the Atelier Lacourière in 1952; this impression is number 46 from an edition of 50 printed on Arches wove paper with the Arches watermark, and published by Galerie Louise Leiris in 1952. It is numbered and signed by the artist in pencil at the lower left and right respectively.

 

 

i Roland Penrose, ‘Beauty and the Monster’, in Roland Penrose and John Golding (eds.), Picasso 1881/1973, London 1973, p.170.