Pablo Picasso

Bullfight Scene


Not on display

Pablo Picasso 1881–1973
Original title
Scène de corrida
Ink on paper
Support: 480 × 623 mm
frame: 928 × 792 × 32 mm
Presented by Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler 1974, accessioned 1994


Bullfight Scene is a brush and ink drawing on paper made by Picasso in the château of Vauvenargues, near Aix-en-Provence, where he and his partner Jacqueline Roque had moved in 1958. Executed on 25 February 1960, this is number ten of fourteen drawings on the theme of the bullfight that Picasso made on the same day. Thirteen of these are ink wash drawings while one (number thirteen) was made in pastel, India ink and wash; Picasso dated, numbered and signed all of them. The drawings depict different moments and protagonists of the bullfight, from the banderilleros trying to spear the bull with their banderillas (decorated barbed darts), to the horse-riding picadores attacking the bull with a long spear to weaken it, and the matador, the star bullfighter who engages in the ultimate death of the bull. They were first shown at the Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris, at the end of 1960, together with other subjects inspired by Spain.

Bullfight Scene illustrates a dramatic moment in which the picador spears the bull as it charges, while the matador stands in the background, ready to step in for the final phase of the killing to begin. In the introduction to the Galerie Louise Leiris exhibition catalogue, the ethnographer and writer Michel Leiris wrote: ‘An heroic minute, the meeting between bull and the ... rider is, with the final thrust, the main moment of the bullfight ... the [final stage of the bullfight] irresistibly evokes the sexual ride.’ (Michel Leiris 1960, [p.7].)

The bullfight was a subject Picasso returned to frequently, particularly from the mid-1950s, and also one of his favorite spectator sports. Picasso, who had been taken to the Malaga bullring from an early age, was an avid follower of bullfights and after moving to Provence would often travel to the arenas of Arles, Nîmes or Vallauris to see them. Picasso’s friend and 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.’ (Roland Penrose, ‘Beauty and the Monster’, in Penrose and Golding 1973, p.170.)

Further reading
Michel Leiris, ‘Romancero du Picador’, Picasso: Dessins 1959-1960, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris 1960, reproduced no.32
Roland Penrose, ‘Beauty and the Monster’, in Roland Penrose and John Golding, eds., Picasso 1881/1973, London 1973, pp.157-195
Giorgia Bottinelli, ‘Pablo Picasso’, in Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Cubism and its Legacy: The Gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2004, pp.88-90, reproduced p.103

Giorgia Bottinelli
February 2004

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