Lot 17
  • 17

Pablo Picasso

1,500,000 - 2,500,000 USD
1,455,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Pablo Picasso
  • Combat de taureau et cheval
  • Signed picasso and dated Boisgeloup - 16 Avril, XXXV (upper left) 
  • Charcoal on paper


Anton Zwemmer, London

Alfred Hecht, London

Heinz Berggruen, Paris

James Goodman Gallery, Inc., New York

The Pace Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in September 1982)

Acquired from the above in October 1982 

Catalogue Note

The theme of the bullfight preoccupied Picasso throughout his long career and Combat de taureau et cheval is a particularly dramatic rendering of the subject – Picasso focusing on the moment when the bull hits the horse, causing its death and the fall of the picador. It was executed at a time of significant turmoil in Picasso’s personal life, when his floundering marriage to Olga Khokhlova was about to come to a crisis point with Olga’s discovery that his young lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, was pregnant. Picasso was devastated by a forced separation during this intimate moment in the relationship with Marie-Thérèse and between the winter of 1934 and the summer of 1935 he virtually ceased painting, and focused instead on poetry and print-making.

The figures resonate closely with a painting dated September 19, 1933, in which the bull has inflicted the fatal wound to the dying horse, and the torero has been tossed from his mount by the bull’s powerful head onto its own back. Picasso’s great interest in bullfighting had been further piqued by trips to his native Spain in 1933 and 1934, following the declaration of the republic there, and the death in the bullring of Ignacio Sánchez Mejías in 1934, the tragic event which inspired Federico García Lorca’s impressive Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. On March 23, 1935 Picasso began to work on his famous engraving La Minotauromachie, with its elegiac presentation of a young Marie-Thérèse Walter leading a Minotaure out of darkness with a lit candle. Combat de taureau et cheval is one of several compositions Picasso created the following month, which continues the story and centers on the struggle between the bull and the mare. The work also points forward to what is arguably Picasso’s greatest work of art, Guernica, which he painted two years later in response to the Spanish Civil War. Guernica displays the same motifs as seen in this work—the terrified horse in the middle of Guernica and the bull towards the upper left corner—and could be read as a testament to the evolution of his work as it progressed towards its final state.

Picasso completed this drawing in April 1935, at the height of the Surrealist movement when Freudian psychosexual symbolism played a defining role in the imagery of the avant-garde. By this time Picasso had taken to the habit of identifying himself with the bull, with its tempestuous and virile nature, and the woman he loved with the horse. In the present work he has also incorporated a figure swooning on top of the horse, bearing a strong resemblance to iconic depictions of Marie-Thérèse that he created during this period. The bullfight became a symbol for the most public display of violence, bravery and ability. It carries powerful contradictions of brutality and grace, tragedy and entertainment, Eros and Thanatos, and ultimately, life and death. Neil Cox and Deborah Povey write: “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”(N. Cox & D. Povey, A Picasso Bestiary, London, 1995, p. 29).