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.
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