Picasso and the Art of Bullfighting

Launch Slideshow

Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honour.” Indeed the drama, heroism and violence of the Spanish sport has captivated generations of artists, poets and writers – Pablo Picasso among them. Drawn to its ritual and symbolism, the Spanish artist depicted bullfighting – and the bull – consistently throughout his oeuvre. Taureau devant le picador, an expressively rendered drawing in this motif, will be offered in the upcoming Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale. Click ahead to learn more about Picasso’s artistic fascination with bullfighting.  

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale
15 November | New York

Picasso and the Art of Bullfighting

  • © 2017 Artists Rights Society
    Pablo Picasso, Taureau devant le picador, 1959. Estimate $250,000-350,000.
    The bullfight was a theme that Picasso returned to continuously, symbolising for him both his Spanish heritage and his masculinity – and as he sought to realise his vision of this unique spectacle. As Picasso once commented, “What I would like is to create the corrida as it is… I would like to create it as I see it… I would like to create it all… I would need a canvas as big as the arenas themselves… It would be magnificent.”* This composition conveys the sense of theater that for Picasso remained the essence of the bullfight.

    *Hélène Parmelin, Picasso dit…, Paris, 1966, pp. 49-50. 

  • Paleolithic paintings in the Lascaux cave complex, Montignac, France.
    Among humankind's earliest artworks were depictions of bulls and horses. The Paleolithic paintings in the Lascaux cave complex in the Dordogne region of France are an early example of this millenia-old fascination. The works in this impressive decorative complex were executed directly on the cave walls with mineral-based pigments in hues of reds, browns, blacks and yellows. Prehistoric and primitive art were deeply influential to Picasso and his pivotal role in the development of Modernism. Strong affinities exist between his bullfighting series and the Lascaux cave paintings — most notably in the economy of line and the narrow chromatic range.

  • © 2017 Artists Rights Society
    Pablo Picasso, La Corrida, 1955. Estimate $150,000-250,000.
    “If bullfighters…managed to inspire such artists as Goya and Picasso, they can rest content, having accomplished an important mission” – matador Luis Miguel Gonzalez, also known as Dominiguin*

    Picasso was undoubtedly enchanted by the ritual, the excitement and the danger of the corrida, much as his fellow Spaniard Goya had been one hundred and fifty years earlier.

    *Tauromaquia, Goya, Picasso and the Bullfight (exhibition catalogue), Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, 1986. 


  • Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Desjarrete de la canalla con lanzas, medias-lunas, banderillas y otras armas (The rabble hamstring the bull with lances, sickles, ‘banderillas’ and other arms) from La Tauromaquia series, 1816, Private Collection.
    Goya was an amateur torero himself, and his La Tauromaquia series of etchings (1815–16) show what the corrida looked like in Spain in the early 19th century. The series explores the history of bullfighting, from its ancient origins in Spain through the time of Muslim rule, the Christian Middle Ages and the Renaissance, culminating in the well-known matadors and picadors of the two main schools of bullfighting during the 18th- and early 19th-centuries. In these plates, Goya depicts both the ancient struggle between man and beast for survival, and the sport's modern evolutions including the daring acrobatics of celebrated toreros like Pedro Romero and Peppe-Hillo.

  • © 2017 Artists Rights Society
    Pablo Picasso, Citando al toro con la capa (Provoking the Bull with the Cape), 1957, Private Collection.
    The subject of the bullfight appears throughout Picasso’s oeuvre, represented both naturalistically and metaphorically. His interest in the spectacle of it intensified during and after World War II when he spent more time in the South of France and regularly attended bullfights there. His series of aquatints illustrating La Tauromaquia published in 1959 by Gustavo Gili in Barcelona demonstrate his great passion for the subject. The series show the refinement of his technique in depicting a public event on a large scale, imbuing it with great drama while also enabling the viewer to engage with it on a personal level.

  • © 2017 Artists Rights Society
    Pablo Picasso, Le Picador, 1964. Estimate $150,000-250,000.
    Le Picador is a superb example of Picasso's interdisciplinary explorations in nontraditional printmaking. As a base, Picasso employed his own linoleum cut, executed some five years prior and published by Galerie Louise Leiris in an edition of 50. In the present work, Picasso extensively paints over the printed base, reimagining the scene as an entirely unique composition in a way rarely seen in his art, yet which is emblematic of the brilliant and insatiable artist who could not help himself but create and recreate.

  • © 2017 Artists Rights Society
    Pablo Picasso, Tête de taureau, 1956. Estimate $20,000-30,000.
    Following the occupation of Paris in 1940, Picasso spent much of his time in the South of France. It was during this period that the figures of the bull and the corrida began to take a more central place in his oeuvre.  In these same years, he began experimenting with ceramics at the Madoura Pottery in Vallauris. This work is one of twenty-four individual designs in silver or gold that he made and crafted with the assistance of master goldsmiths François and Pierre Hugo, descendants of the famed French writer Victor Hugo.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos & news.
Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's

We use our own and third party cookies to enable you to navigate around our Site, use its features and engage on social media, and to allow us to perform analytics, remember your preferences, provide services that you have requested and produce content and advertisements tailored to your interests, both on our Site as well as others. For more information, or to learn how to change your cookie or marketing preferences, please see our updated Privacy Policy & Cookie Policy.