PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF GEORGE EMBIRICOS
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London
Acquired from the above in 1987
Picasso would remain in France throughout the occupation, believing that it was a moral obligation for himself and "artists who live and work with spiritual values cannot and should not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilization are at risk" (quoted in S. A. Nash, ed., Picasso and the War Years, San Francisco, 1998, p. 13). As Steven A. Nash explains, Picasso's work during this period "became a private resistance effort, one that carried strong symbolic value for friends and other artists trapped within the same excoriating circumstances. Through its inward journey, it opens a unique window onto the trauma of war and the pressures of life in occupied Paris" (ibid., p. 14).
Artistic representation of sexual domination and its consequences were prevalent in the canon of Western art. The powerful imagery of Picasso's Le Viol evokes neo-Classical portrayals of the rape of the Sabine women by the conquering Roman army (fig. 3). Picasso's depiction reconfigures the theme as an allegory for the 20th century, with the Germanic barbarian violating France's hallowed Marianne. He appropriates the same figures -- the bearded man/minotaur and the voluptuous nude woman -- who appeared in his mythologically-themed drawings of the 1930s, and he recasts them in a more literal re-enactment of the story of the rape of Europa. This ancient Greek myth tells of how Zeus transforms himself into a Bull and descends from the heavens to vanquish the virginal Europa. Picasso's self-identification with the half-man, half-bull character of the Minotaur played a significant role in his representations of sexual power and frustration, and the present work is also loaded with these more personalized references (fig. 4). Such biographical and historical interpretations are all the more tempting when considering this picture's clear ties to Titian's Rape of Europa and Picasso's desire to align himself with the legends of art history.
With its complex linearity and tonal gradation, Le Viol evidences extraordinary formal sophistication and sensitivity. Picasso's technical brilliance is illustrated with abbreviated, linear hatching used to convey frenzied movement and blurring washes of ink to create an atmosphere of confusion. His rendering of the bodies as a composite of disjointed and angular planes recalls his Cubist experimentations of the 1910s. With these formal devices, Picasso not only alludes to chaos of wartime but also to his own tumultuous relationship with Dora Maar. An artist herself, Dora was famously headstrong, dramatic, and demanding. Picasso later admitted that she came to personify the war in his pictures from this period. The couple's turbulent affair inspired Picasso to explore the conflict between passion and domination in his art, and Le Viol is one of his most visceral expressions of this theme.
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