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The Bullfight Theme
One of the most important themes in "The Unknown Masterpiece" is that of the Spanish bullfight.
Bullfight Theme

Bull profileRunning vertically down the right hand side of the drawing is a profile of a huge bull which has been stylized to blend in with the curtain in the same area of the composition.

The female in front of the hidden bull is dressed in the traditional traje de luces or costume of a torrera, a female bullfighter.

From the torrera's clasped hands appears to hang a small striped 'muleta' or bullfighter's cape.

Main bull, 1934 Drawing

The bull's proximity to the torrera suggests they have joined forces, she appears to be leading the animal onto the stage as they advance towards the female on the left to attack. This interpretation is supported by other Picasso drawings from 1934 in which Picasso's wife Olga attacks his mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter. Supportive of this interpretation we find in Picasso's poems of 1935, descriptions of Marie-Thérèse characterized as a wounded horse in the corrida.

There are further indications in that Marie-Therese appears in "The Unknown Masterpiece, " to be symbolically gored by the horns of the bull.

The horse-shoe or 'U' shaped darts apparently digging into her shoulder symbolize multiple pairs of bull's horns. They appear to emanate from behind Olga's back, where similar forms can be seen balancing on a bunch of bandarillas or darts which are normally plunged into the neck of bull, to weaken it up, before "the moment of truth." The darts or bandarillas have a dual appearance, they also look like a bunch of flowers. Did Olga possibly visit her husband's lover, upon hearing of her pregnancy? One can only speculate, but it would seem that a deception is taking place, an ambush with weapons disguised as a gift. Reininforcing the interpretation, we find in Picasso's play, "The Three Little Girls," a scene in which flowers are thrown like spears. Picasso tended to cling to imagery like this and transform it over periods of years, applying it at times to a variety of media.

Horse, 1934 Drawing

There is also a suggested shadowy form of a horses' head, painted in wash, in the darkened area on Marie-Thérèse's shoulder.

Furthermore, the heavily black emphasised 'Z' shape running through her eyes and digging into her neck can be seen as part of a concealed 'Picazzo' signature in the composition. There is a similar, less emphasised 'Z' shape, under the neck of Olga along with other distinctive shapes which if bought together would form the complete "Picazzo" signature.

Blindfolded HorseAs far as the figure on the left is concerned the concealed 'Z' alludes to the tradition of blindfolding and severing the vocal chords of the horse. This also has strong poetic associations with the 'silenced' and 'blinded' relationship Picasso enforced upon Marie-Thérèse during the 1920's and 1930's.

Between the central figure and the figure on the left, is a barrera, a protective wooden barrier often seen built into the perimeter of the bullring.

There are also two concealed, subliminal images of bulls heads within the composition. In the upper area, there is an impression of a bull staring outwards at the observer

Bull's Head, 1934 Drawing

and in the lower area, there is the impression of a silhouetted bull's head delineated in the lines of ink and black wash.

Bull Silhouette, 1934 Drawing

These emphasised shapes and the symmetry of their' horns, indicate they were intentionally concealed images.

For further information about the bullfight in Picasso's art of the 1930's, the best book is: Guernica: History, Transformations, Meanings by Hershel B. Chipp, published by Thames and Hudson, 1989.

JPG image (37 K) Bullfight Theme
JPG image (8 K) Bull profile
JPG image (35 K) Main bull, 1934 Drawing
JPG image (29 K) Horse, 1934 Drawing
JPG image (7 K) Blindfolded horse
JPG image (34 K) Bull's head, 1934 Drawing
JPG image (34 K) Bull silhouette, 1934 Drawing
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