Pablo Picasso’s Tête d’animal à cornes
is a sculpture of exquisite detail and impressive modeling. Cast in bronze with a rich brown patina of an almost leathery finish, the present work was conceived in clay in 1950. Picasso’s enjoyment of his medium is evidenced by the incredible opulence of the surface, a legacy of the probing darting movements of the artist’s hands and tools, kneading and shaping the clay whilst it was still pliable. Highly symbolic—the horned animal is neither bull, nor goat or even Minotaur, but rather a savage and inventive mélange of all three—the present work is testament to Picasso’s compulsive impulse to reinvent myths with freedom and confirms him as one of the most imaginative and innovative sculptors of modern times.
Picasso’s move to Vallauris at the end of the war and his acquisition in 1949 of a disused scent factory, which he transformed into a sculpture workshop and studio, had prompted something of a renaissance in his three-dimensional work. This period of intense activity produced some of his most inventive sculptures yet and a large number of those were models of animals that held a particular significance for him personally. Chief among these is the magnificent La Chèvre
which was assembled from a discarded wicker basket, ceramic pots and plaster before being cast in bronze (see fig. 2, now at the Museum of Modern Art, New York). From the early 1930s onwards, however, of all the beasts in Picasso’s sculptural menagerie it was the bull which came to be the foremost signifier of the artist’s tempestuous and virile nature, most notably in the form of the mythological Minotaur; a myth which Picasso revisited with great energy throughout his career (see fig. 3). The man with a bull’s head, a synthesis of Antiquity and Spain, had long preoccupied the artist. “Picasso’s Minotaur, which feasts, loves and fights is Picasso himself,” wrote Kahnweiler (quoted in Patrice Triboux, Picasso and Greece
(exhibition catalogue), Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation, Museum of Contemporary Art, Andros, 2004, p. 49).
The bull was omnipresent in the art of the first millennium and Picasso’s encyclopedic knowledge of Western art allowed him to draw upon his visual memory at almost any given moment. For Picasso, as a Spaniard, the bull inevitably had powerful associations with La Corrida. The artist had refused to return to his native Spain after Franco came to power in 1939, and one of the main attractions for Picasso of the South of France, particularly of Arles and Nîmes, was that he could attend corridas once again. The return of bullfighting imagery in the artist’s work of the post-war years, when the present work was conceived, was no doubt a reflection of this joy. But, as Neil Cox and Deborah Povey suggest, it was also much more than that: “for Picasso, the bullfight engendered special relationships between the horse, the matador, the picador, the Minotaur and, of course, the artist himself […] The ritualistic dimension of the bullfight mediates Picasso’s own assimilation and reworking of the bull’s ancient status in myth and religion as both sacrificial victim and giver of life. For in his work the vestigial survival in the bullfight of centuries of mystical metamorphoses of the virile power of the bull is given fresh urgency and meaning” (Neil Cox & Deborah Povey, A Picasso Bestiary, London, 1995, p. 29).