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Beneath a star-studded sky, a blind, stumbling minotaur is led by a girl carrying a dove. Behind them, two fishermen haul nets. The above etching, an aquatint, is the 97th in a series of 100 etchings commissioned in 1930 from Pablo Picasso by art dealer Ambroise Vollard, and completed over the course of seven years.
Grounded in classical mythology and surrealism, the Vollard Suite features two main motifs: the sculptor in his studio and the minotaur – a monstrous creature, half-man, half-bull, that Picasso used to depict his predatory alter-ego.
In this print, along with the other four last works in the series, the previously raging minotaur is powerful no more. Anguished and pitiful, it is reliant on the girl for guidance. With her classically beautiful features, she is thought to portray Picasso’s muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, the 17-year-old who supplanted his wife in his affections in the late 1920s.
Redolent of tragedy and suffering, the minotaur can also be seen as an allegory of the darkening political situation in Europe in the 1930s, with the approach of the Spanish civil war and the growth of fascism.
Displayed with prints by Rembrandt and Goya that inspired Picasso, including Goya’s rarely seen Bulls of Bordeaux series, the Vollard Suite is at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, until December 20.