Lot 18
  • 18

Pablo Picasso

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 GBP
10,386,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Pablo Picasso
  • Composition (Composition au Minotaure)
  • dated 9 Mai XXXVI (lower right); dated 9 Mai XXXVI on the reverse
  • gouache, pen and ink and pencil on paper


Estate of the artist (inv. 3871)

Marina Picasso (the artist's granddaughter; by descent from the above)

Acquired from the above by the late owner


New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Pablo Picasso. A Retrospective, 1980, illustrated in the catalogue

Venice, Centro di Cultura di Palazzo Grassi, Picasso, Opere dal 1895 al 1971 dalla Collezione Marina Picasso, 1981, no. 228, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Il Minotauro trafitto)

Munich, Haus der Kunst; Cologne, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle; Frankfurt, Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut & Zurich, Kunsthaus, Pablo Picasso, Sammlung Marina Picasso, 1981-82, no. 187, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art & Kyoto, Municipal Museum, Picasso, Masterpieces from Marina Picasso Collection and Museums in U.S.A. and U.S.S.R., 1983, no. 148, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Minotaur and Women)

Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria & Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Picasso, 1984, no. 113, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Tübingen, Kunsthalle & Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Picasso: Pastelle, Zeichnungen, Aquarelle, 1986, no. 162, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Tokyo, Seibu Art Forum & Ohtsu, Seibu Hall, Pablo Picasso: Collection Marina Picasso, 1990-91, no. 19, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Minotaur and Women)

New York, Jan Krugier Gallery, Tauromaquia, Works by Pablo Picasso, Photographs by L. Clergue, 1991

Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Forma. El ideal clásico en el arte moderno, 2001-02, no. 62, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, La Révolution Surréaliste, 2002, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Vienna, Albertina, Goya bis Picasso. Meisterwerke der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2005, no. 154, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Munich, Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Das Ewige Auge - Von Rembrandt bis Picasso. Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2007, no. 189, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Surrealism in Paris, 2011-12, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, œuvres de 1932 à 1937, Paris, 1957, vol. 8, no. 286, illustrated pl. 136

The Picasso Project (ed.), Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Surrealism, 1930-1936, San Francisco, 1997, no. 36-060, illustrated p. 287

Brigitte Léal, Christine Piot & Maris-Laure Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, no. 745, illustrated in colour p. 303

Picasso and Greece (exhibition catalogue), Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation, Museum of Contemporary Art, Andros, 2004, illustrated p. 61 (titled Minotaur Pierced by a Sword)

Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso. From the Minotaure to Guernica (1927-1939), Barcelona, 2011, no. 800, illustrated in colour p. 252 (titled Dying Minotaur (Composition))

Catalogue Note

Beautifully detailed and replete with allegorical and mythical imagery, the present work belongs to a series of Minotaur compositions that Picasso completed in May 1936 (figs. 1 & 2). The scene features a cast of characters who by this point were commonly represented in Picasso’s repertoire, but their significance here was much more heavily invested with biographical detail. These three pictures were considered by Picasso as amongst his most treasured works, and remained with him until his death, when the present work was inherited by his granddaughter Marina, and the other two formed part of the collection of the Musée Picasso in Paris. ‘If you marked on a map all the routes along which I passed and drew a line to join them together’, Picasso once remarked, ‘it would perhaps take the shape of a Minotaur’ (reprinted in Picasso and Greece (exhibtion catalogue), op. cit., back cover). The present work, executed with transparent washes of colour that enhance the element of fantasy, perfectly exemplifies this statement.


When he completed this picture in the late spring of 1936, Picasso was experiencing a drastic upheaval in his personal life. His marriage to Olga was in shambles, his mistress Marie-Thérèse had recently given birth to the couple’s daughter Maya, and his new love interest, Dora Maar, was now inserting herself within the drama of Picasso’s personal life. The scene depicted in the present work provides a dramatic narrative that can readily be applied to Picasso’s current state of affairs.  On the left appears the unmistakable image of Marie-Thérèse, shrouded by the sail, while the impaled Minotaur, understood to be the alter-ego of the artist who has fallen on his own sword, lies in agony at her feet. The bucking horse, which would appear a year later in Picasso’s harrowing Guernica, could be interpreted as a stand-in for Dora, while the black shadow over the dying beast is perhaps an allusion to the menace of Olga. Rich with interpretive possibility, this picture is one of the most visually engaging from Picasso’s fascinating series that spring.


The image of the Minotaur, a character of Cretan mythology born of the union between Pasiphaë and a bull, first appeared in Picasso's work in a collage of 1928, now at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. In 1933 Picasso executed another version of this subject for the cover for the first issue of Minotaure, a Surrealist periodical published by Albert Skira and Tériade in Paris. It was primarily the hybrid nature of the creature that appealed to Picasso and many Surrealist artists, who delighted in the union of opposing forces embodied in this figure. In a number of Picasso's works throughout the 1930s, including several preparatory sketches for Guernica, the Minotaur is depicted as a ferocious animal, often in scenes of rape and violence. In the present work, however, his fierce character appears at the mercy of the women surrounding him.


It appears that Picasso has conflated several stories of Greek mythology in this intricate composition. The raft on which the Minotaur lies dying alludes to the raft of Odysseus, while the laurel-crowned Marie-Thérèse could be a reference to the virtuous Calypso, the nymph-lover whom Odysseus abandoned in order to return to his wife. A female version of Theseus, who in Plutarch’s telling sails to Crete to slay the Minotaur, waves her lance astride a horse. In the essay ‘The Death of a Monster’, Niki Loizidi provides yet another possible narrative: ‘The presence of a spear leads us directly to the conclusion that the flower-wreathed woman is, as well as being a symbol of classical beauty, a female picador one of the protagonists of the Spanish corrida. In other words, the figure of the young girl combines the beauty of Aphrodite with the strength of an ancient Amazon and also the role in the Spanish bullfight of the picador, who aggressively torments the bull, ultimately delivering the coup de grâce’ (N. Loizidi, ‘The Death of a Monster, or Classicism as Modernism’s path to Self-Knowledge’, in Picasso and Greece (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 61).