The Vollard Suite Highlights- Picasso: Man or Beast

Kirsten Gjermo Uncategorized

“The paintings, finished or not, are the pages of my journal, and as such they are valid.”-Pablo Picasso

Consisting of 100 etchings and drypoints created between 1930 and 1937, the Vollard Suite is a unique personal journey through the lens in which Picasso interpreted the world around him. While there is a prolific amount of work in this series, Picasso did not turn it into a linear narrative. Rather, he used symbols and applied meaning to visual tropes such as that of the Minotaur to create deeply expressive and personal statements. There are five themes, however, that the whole suite can be divided into- Battle of Love, the Sculptor’s Studio, Rembrandt, the Minotaur, and portraits of Vollard.

Each etching bears some connection to classical mythology and also appears neoclassical in style with clean, elegant lines. Picasso dropped his cubist tendencies and regressed back to a simpler visual style, taking cues from the artistry of the Greeks and Romans.  Representing the women he depicted as classical beauties, a Venus in essence, Picasso reveals his desire for a world filled with beauty but also plagued by a sinister element with the presence of the Minotaur.

In Minotaur Caressing a Woman, a lively and indulgent scene presents itself. A woman convoluted in form, lies nude on a couch as the Minotaur comes from behind embracing her fully. To the right, there is a flutist and a maiden casually watching this possessive act of sexuality as if they were witnessing a play at the theatre.  A bowl of what appears to be oysters, an aphrodisiac, and a pitcher rest on the table off to the right side as well, symbolizing a combination of fertility, gluttony, and luxury. As the woman is caressed by the Minotaur, the two seem to get lost in the indulgent revelry, losing all sense of virtue.

Gaze plays an important role in this work. Aside from the on-looking couple, there is a domineering Greco-Roman style sculpture head staring blankly over the whole scene and ultimately making eye contact with the viewer. To the left, is a more discreet Grecian bust statue on a pedestal that also carries a blank expression, returning his gaze back in the direction of the couple. The head in the background can be seen as the sculptor since this image is set in the sculptor’s studio. The Minotaur replaces the sculptor in the role being played. It cannot be forgotten that Picasso used the Minotaur to symbolize his alter-ego, and if the Minotaur replaced the sculptor that means that the sculptor’s head is that of Picasso’s, revealing another side of his personality. Picasso thereby poses a complexing philosophical question regarding the meaning and interaction between artist and model, model and sculptor and the relationship of the woman and the model to his art and to him. One can imagine the variety of juxtapositions presented among the subjects at hand and how they all interact to question the nature of representation as well as Picasso’s feelings on his art.

A scene of pure, unfiltered violence, Le Viol II, (viol French for rape) depicts a ferocious act of rape and captures Picasso’s physical and emotional obsession with women. The rapist is portrayed resembling a classical Greek figure with subhuman attributes even though he is not seen here as a Minotaur. The man, shown at the height of his physical prowess, cowers over the woman like an animal eating its prey. The exaggerated musculature of the man’s body mirrors the soft curves of the woman. It is a very carnal performance that at first glance might go unnoticed due to the roundness of form making the two figures look like an amorphous blob. While the subject is grotesque in nature, the manner in which Picasso illustrated it is somewhat sensual and flowing. The lines curve and twist into each other in what looks like a loop of eternity. At this stage in his life, Picasso was battling with a tumultuous love life, having an affair while still married to his wife. In a way, Picasso struggled to retain control over his animalistic urges, which can suggest why he decided to personify himself as a Minotaur, or a young, fit man. He was aging and still had desires he wanted fulfilled so he took his frustrations to the canvas, revealing his most private feelings to the public and in turn creating an audience of voyeurs.

View these works and many more spectacular pieces from Picasso at our Pablo Picasso Exhibition: The Diary of a Master. Join us for the opening ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 18th from 7:30 pm- 10:30 pm. This unique event will benefit the Florida Hospital for Children and 100% of proceeds from the ticket sales and silent auction will donated to their cause. Purchase your tickets today on our event page here!

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