The Art of Bullfighting

2004-08-04 10:58

Paris - One of many artists inspired by bullfighting, Pablo Picasso's fascination with bulls and bullfighting began when he was eight years old and lasted much of his life. In what many regard as one of his masterpieces, "Guernica", the head of a bull occupies the top left hand corner and other references to the corrida can be seen.

But after placing the accent on the violence of the combat for many years, the Spanish artist's approach gradually softened, with the conflict between man and animal less brutally portrayed.

The matador Luis Miguel Dominguin, interviewed by the writer Francois Zumbiehl about the attitude of various artists to the corrida, said Picasso (1881-1973) "was obsessed by bullfights because he saw in them at work a force far beyond that reflected by other artistic expressions."

But Dominguin (1926-1996), who was the lover of film stars Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner and a contemptuous critic of the "vanity" of American author and bullfight fan Ernest Hemingway, said that Picasso was not particularly interested in bullfighting techniques.

Bullfighting 'as mystical as it was erotic'

He thought painter and filmmaker Jean Cocteau (1899-1963) saw the corrida as a ballet and sought in it "a poetic form", while painter Salvador Dali (1904-1988) saw "the mythological image of the Minotaur (half man, half bull)". Filmmaker Luis Bunuel (1900-1983), again according to the celebrated matador, discovered in bullfighting a pleasure "as mystical as it was erotic."

Picasso's first bullfighting work was a drawing he produced in 1889 showing the bull being angered and provoked by picadors. Later, when living in Barcelona, he produced works entitled "The arena", "Village corrida", "Entry to the bullring" and "Bull running".

He abandoned the theme for some years but took it up again in his work with the Ballets Russes after 1922 when the images of the bull, the corrida and the Minotaur resurfaced.

According to the Spanish painter Antonio Saura (1930-), Picasso was obsessed with fantasies of kidnapping and rape, and saw in the bullfight only "the violence of the impact against the horse (of the picador)", whence his images of horses skewered on horns, their guts spilling out and huge, bestial bulls.

As a young man Picasso had seen horses having their entrails ripped out: not until 1928 was padding introduced. Not surprisingly, perhaps, his pictures are marked by the violence of the encounter between bull and horse and by the lances of the picadors.

Later the painter was to be a regular visitor to the arenas of the south of France and to claim he would have liked to have been a picador.

In 1928 he followed in the footsteps of Goya (1746-1828) with etchings devoted to an 18th century matador, Jose Delgado Guerra. The image of the Minotaur reemerged, transformed into a pitiable blind animal led by a little girl. After Guernica (1937), where the bull can be taken as the symbol of death, and after 1945, the bullfight remained a theme but the violence vanished and a series on the picador executed from 1959 to 1968 takes a more romantic approach.

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