The Vollard Suite is Picasso’s most celebrated series of etchings. The sequence of 100 images offers an intense look into Picasso’s psyche during one of the most creative periods of his artistic career. The monumental suite was commissioned by the art dealer and print publisher Ambroise Vollard (1866–1939), a close friend of Picasso, who had offered the artist his first major exhibition in 1901. The partnership between the two men lasted for almost 40 years, until Vollard’s sudden death in 1939.
Picasso worked on the Vollard Suite between 1930 and 1937, a period in which his work was strongly influenced by classical imagery. Many of the prints in the series explore his passionate love affair with Marie-Therèse Walter. The artist had spotted the 17 year-old girl in 1927, on the steps to the Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and by 1930 she had become the central model for many of his paintings, sculptures and graphic work. He had a daughter with her in 1935, but left her for Dora Maar a year later.
A Minotaur is kneeling above a sleeping woman. The classic features of her face resemble those of Marie-Thérèse. The ferocious beast with the naked muscular body of a man and a bull’s head tenderly caresses the woman’s hand with his muzzle, trying not to wake her. The girls’ face and Minotaurs’ body are sketched in sharp single lines, contrasting the minute detail in which the hairy head of the creature is rendered.
In Greek mythology Minotaur is the offspring of Pasiphae, the wife of Minos, King of Crete, and a bull, who was sent to Minos by the god Poseidon for sacrifice. Instead of killing the animal, Minos kept it alive, and as a punishment Poseidon made Pasiphae fall in love with the bull.
The Minotaur is a recurring motif in Picasso’s oeuvre, and subject of numerous prints in the Vollard Suite. As the artist`s alter ego, he represents lust, violence, and torment, but – as in this print – occasionally also shows tenderness and vulnerability.