Call of the Classical Era

picasso-pan
Centaur and Bacchante. Paris, 2 February 1947. Ink wash, pen and gouache on lithographic paper transferred onto stone. ©Succession Picasso 2014.

Centaur and Bacchante. Paris, 2 February 1947. Ink wash, pen and gouache on lithographic paper transferred onto stone. ©Succession Picasso 2014.

The academic education of Picasso, whose artistic training began in a world still dominated by the imitation and reproduction of the classical models of Greek and Roman art, is at the root of his perennial fascination with the art themes of ancient times.

In Picasso’s engravings we find the Three Graces ‒Aglae, Talya, and Eufrosine, daughters of Zeus and Eurynome‒ appearing as bathers. The Three Bathers, taken from the Three Graces iconography, was a theme revisited by Picasso in all his periods, similarly to the permanently in-demand and expedient Harlequin. From the ochres of Gosol, passing through primitivism—Cézanne and Derain painted bathers with mask-like faces—and cubist fragmentation until reaching the classical world and the 1950’s, the bathers appeared in the majority of his diverse periods.

Three Bathers, II. Paris (?), 1923. Etching on zinc. ©Succession Picasso 2014.

Three Bathers, II. Paris (?), 1923. Etching on zinc. ©Succession Picasso 2014.

The particular feature that distinguishes this etching from other similar ones is that, accompanying the clean lines of the etching, the distinguished and aristocratic drawing, there is a shading produced by accident, since the plate was scored by the burin quite some time before the print was produced. During this gap, a layer of oxide formed on the surface of the zinc plate which, when the print finally was made, gave a misty effect, a grey before the blue, a melancholy end-of-summer feeling. Thus the anecdote became part of the creative act, an element that introduces nostalgia into beauty and long, light-filled days.

Pan. Vallauris, 10 March 1948. Ink wash on zinc. ©Succession Picasso 2014.

Pan. Vallauris, 10 March 1948. Ink wash on zinc. ©Succession Picasso 2014.

The Centaur Picador. Golfe-Juan, 17 February 1948. Drypoint on copper. ©Succession Picasso 2014.

The Centaur Picador. Golfe-Juan, 17 February 1948. Drypoint on copper. ©Succession Picasso 2014.

In the 1930′s we find passionate centaurs which, by the 1940′s, have turned into picadors, bacchanalia, and flute-playing fauns, also portrayed with energetic strokes. The capacity of classical myths to combine human and animal elements in a single figure such as a centaur or a faun, thus combining reason and pure instinct, serves to provide a psychological and psychoanalytical reading of these figures in terms of the merely confessional and autobiographical.

Curated by Mario Virgilio Montañez Arroyo, the exhibition Picasso: Engravings and Ceramics from the House of His Birth can be seen until 20th April at Pera Museum.

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