Over twenty years ago I was reluctantly dragged to the Picasso museum in Paris. I wasn’t keen; at that time I couldn’t see what was so special about Picasso. But the visit opened my eyes. One of the things that particularly made an impression on me was the bull’s head that he had created from a bicycle saddle and handlebars. It was so simple and yet so effective. Previously, I would have taken the view that this was something anyone could have done. But what I realised was although that was true, it is so simple anyone could have created it, very few people would have thought of doing it, and not only that he’d got it just right. It looked like a bull’s head.
I think that it was this simple little work that made me start to question my prejudice and begin to appreciate Modern Art.
Picture source here
There were several other items relating to bullfighting in the museum. Little sketches created by a few strokes of the brush that really sum up Picasso’s skill as an artist.
Picture source; Musée Picasso
Picasso was a passionate fan of bullfighting and during the years of the Franco dictatorship when he wasn’t able to attend the Corrida in his native Spain, he regularly attended the bullfights held in France in Arles and Nîmes with his mistress, Francoise Gilot (the mother of his daughter, Paloma), and friends including, Jean Cocteau.
Not surprisingly bulls and bullfighting provided the inspiration for many of his works.
The next time I saw something by Picasso on the bullfighting theme was when we visited the small, but excellent, Musée d’Art Moderne in Céret at the foot of the Pyrenees in Catalan country in south west France, where Picasso had stayed in 1911, 1912 and 1913 during the period when he was developing the Cubist style with Georges Braque. One of the highlights of their collection is a series of paintings on ceramic cups created by Pablo Picasso on the theme of the bullfight – les coupelles tauromachie .
The series of paintings covers all the main stages of the bullfight from the paseo to the death of the bull.
Images from www.picasso.fr
The images are all very simple little sketches, but exceptionally well executed and very effective.
Image from www.sunfrance.com
While I was visiting Nîmes I discovered that two of the museums in the town were holding exhibitions featuring Picasso. To mark it’s 10th anniversary and the 60th Feria de Nimes le Musée des Cultures Taurines was holding an exhibition of Picasso’s relationship with bullfighting “Picasso, sous le soleil de Françoise, Nîmes et les toros”. I was keen to visit. Fortunately, unlike Britain, where everything has to shut at 5 p.m., the museums and attractions in Nîmes stayed open later, and as the le Musée des Cultures Taurines was open until 6 p.m. I managed to catch the last hour before it closed after I returned from the Pont du Gard (the bus got back to the station at quarter to five)
It was an excellent little exhibition featuring letters and photographs relating to Picasso and his visits to Nîmes, and an impressive selection of ceramics, paintings and prints all about bulls and bullfighting.
Picasso at the bullfight in les Arênes de Nîmes
The pictures included a small painting of a picador he painted when he was only 8 years old.
I particularly liked a series of prints of bulls starting with an image drawn with just a few lines and working up to a more comprehensive drawing of a “toro”.
Now I have to say that I’m set against any “sport” that involves deriving pleasure from the slaughter of animals, so I’m not in favour of the Corrida. I might feel uncomfortable with the subject matter, but I don’t think that stops me from appreciating the genius of the works on this theme created by Picasso. Or am I being hypocritical?
The other Picasso related exhibition – Pablo Picasso et Françoise Gilot – peintre et muse was showing at le Musée du Vieux Nîmes. It features photographs of their life together and a selection of paintings and drawings by Francoise Gilot, who is an artist in her own right. I’d have liked to have seen this too, but, alas, time had run out.