Lot 38
  • 38

Pablo Picasso

8,000,000 - 12,000,000 USD
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  • Pablo Picasso
  • Le Viol
  • Signed Picasso and dated 2. Mai. 40. (upper center)
  • Pen and ink, brush and ink, and wash on paper
  • 15 by 18 in.
  • 38.1 by 45.7 cm


Fritz Wotruba, Vienna

Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London

George Embiricos, New York (acquired from the above in 1987 and sold by the Estate: Sotheby’s, New York, November 8, 2012, lot 30)

Acquired at the above sale


Christian Zervos,  Dessins de Picasso, 1892-1948,  Paris, 1949, no. 155, illustrated pl. 115

Catalogue Note

This masterpiece is one of Picasso's most provocative portrayals of the sexual act, rendered on the eve of the Nazi invasion of France. Its emotional resonance conveys a fury and frustration that was perfectly suited to the times. Rendered in pen and washes of ink, the drawing dates from May 2, 1940, only eight days before the beginning of the Nazi occupation of France. Le Viol shows Picasso’s continuing focus on the turmoil raging throughout Europe that had first manifested in his art in 1937 with his monumental Guernica.

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. 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 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. 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.

Imagery of abduction and the suggestion of sexual violation are found in Picasso's 1920 work Le Viol in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Here the female figure reaches towards a fallen man, whose sword and shield fall by his side as another male figure, spear in hand, pulls her towards his horse. This is done in Picasso's Neo-Classical style, the figures echoing the formation of Giambolgona's Rape of the Sabine Women located in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Over four decades later, Picasso would engage in a series of large-scale history paintings depicting the rape of the Sabine women, directly related to the history paintings of Poussin. There were often political undertones encapsulated in these works. Le Viol (the present composition) and a moment of political decimation in Europe where the Nazi party threatened the world order. Simonetta Fraquelli points to the Cuban missile crisis as the font of inspiration behind the 1962-63 canvases: "A series of works entitled the Rape of the Sabines, begun in 1962 in response to the Cuban missile crisis and culminating in the large version of 1963, would become a more generic indictment of violence and war. In this powerful and beautifully crafted painting, elements of the composition and the individual figures are derived from two well-known masterpieces by Poussin and one by Jacques-Louis David. The image also recalls the reckless fury of the warriors displayed in Goya's Black paintings, such as Dos Forasteros" (S. Fraquelli in Picasso, Challenging the Past (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2009, pp. 144-45).

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.