Renowned for painting as well as sculpture, Pablo Picasso is arguably the greatest printmaker of the twentieth century. He created more than two thousand printed images, working primarily in intaglio techniques but also, for extended periods, in lithography and linoleum cut. It was usually the influence of a master craftsman in a collaborative workshop that served as the impetus for Picasso's printmaking, as new techniques fueled his imagination.
Picasso's early prints reflect his evolving artistic language and his place within the major modern movements. The Frugal Repast, of 1904, evokes a sense of mystery and nobility surrounding poverty, recalling the Symbolist aesthetic of Picasso's Blue and Rose periods. Two years later, a woodcut of his companion, Fernande Olivier, betrays the simplified forms he found in Iberian sculpture and a raw expressionism inspired by tribal art.
Picasso's illustrations for Saint Matorel, with text by his friend Max Jacob, incorporate the Cubist idiom with which he is most closely associated. While this abstracted language of forms served him throughout his career, his work remained aligned with figurative imagery. In his great prints of the 1930s, created in collaboration with master printer Roger Lacourière, his allegorical inclinations are revealed, while these works also share Surrealist preoccupations with the unconscious.
Well into his later years, Picasso remained open to the potential of a new technique. He discovered lithography in the 1940s, at the workshop of Fernand Mourlot in Paris. One monumental series created there, Woman in an Armchair, exists in thirty experimental variations. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was stimulated by the possibilities of linoleum cut under the tutelage of Hidalgo Arnéra, a printer whose shop was near his studio in southern France. Innovations continued, as evidenced by the one-block process he devised for color printing, seen in the striking Still Life with Glass under the Lamp.
This provocative scene, full of symbolic content, is difficult but not impossible to interpret. Several actions take place in a narrow, confined space. The main protagonists—a young girl with a candle and a bouquet of flowers, and a huge Minotaur, a mythological creature with a human body and a bull's head—appear frozen in their confrontation. Between them a wounded female bullfighter is flung across a lacerated horse that snarls with teeth bared. Above, two girls with doves, symbols of peace, peer out from a window, while a bearded man appears on a ladder at the left. A tiny sailboat can be glimpsed on the far horizon.
Executed when Picasso's personal life was in turmoil and he had ceased to paint, Minotauromachy presents a deeply private mythology. Not only was his marriage to Olga Khokhlova troubled at the time, but he was also ambivalent about the pregnancy of his young mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, whose facial features are similar to those of the female figures. The paradoxical Minotaur, the bull-man, was a frequent theme for the artist during this time.
This disturbing and violent representation is also prophetic of the Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936, a year after this print was executed. Minotauromachy served as a visual source for Guernica, Picasso's famous mural of 1937 about that conflict, which contains some of the same imagery that is seen here.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 163