Illustrated companion

Picasso was not formally a member of the Surrealist group but he was close to them in Paris and his work was greatly admired by them. 'The Three Dancers' was reproduced in the Surrealist journal La R?vo1ution Surr?aliste in July 1925 which must have been very soon after it was finished.

With this painting Picasso began a completely new phase of his art. The importance he himself attached to it is indicated by the fact that he kept it by him for the next forty years, before finally selling it directly to the Tate Gallery through the intermediary of his friend the English artist and collector Sir Roland Penrose.

The painting shows three figures dancing in a room in front of French windows opening onto a balcony with railings. But behind the dancer on the right can be seen a fourth figure, a mysterious presence whose face, much more naturalistic than the others, is silhouetted against the blue sky. Picasso told Penrose: 'While I was painting this picture an old friend of mine, Ramon Pichot, died and I have always felt that it should be called "The Death of Pichot" rather than "The Three Dancers".' The tall black figure on the right is the presence of Pichot, X-rays show that the picture began as a more conventional representation of three dancers rehearsing.

At this time Picasso was closely involved with the Russian ballet of Diaghilev. Since 1918 he had been married to one of Diaghilev's dancers, Olga Koklova, and in 1925 he spent the early spring with the company in Monte Carlo where they were performing.

The death of Ramon Pichot seems to have aroused a chain of memories and associations in Picasso which led him to transform the painting into its present form, in which the distorted angular figures, harsh colours and thickly worked paint surfaces seem to express violent and unpleasant emotions. Ramon Pichot was a Spanish painter and friend of Picasso's student days in Barcelona. In 1900 Pichot went with Picasso on his first long visit to Paris together with another young painter, Carlos Casagemas. In Paris Casagemas fell in love with a young woman friend of Picasso named Germaine. She rejected him and Casagemas committed suicide, after first taking a shot at Germaine, who soon after married Pichot. This drama greatly affected Picasso and 'The Three Dancers' can be read as a reference to the affair. The female dancer on the left has sharp teeth, a grotesque exposed breast and wears a crude image of her genitals on the outside of her skirt. She is a type of femme fatale - a woman who destroys men through her sexuality - and could represent Germaine. Between her and the figure of Pichot on the right is the central figure, which as well as being in a dance position is also unmistakeably in the pose of a crucifixion. This may represent Casagemas, martyred between Germaine and Pichot.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.164