Students in “History of Twentieth Century Art” this fall had the option to research objects in the OSUMA collection. For the next few weeks on the blog, I will be featuring their research. This week’s author is Megan Hughes, who researched and wrote about Pablo Picasso’s color linoleum cut print, Toros en Vallauris. The following text is excerpted from her research paper.
Picasso was born in Spain in 1881. Even though he lived in France for most of his adult life, Picasso always remained fascinated with the Spanish bullfight (corrida) as a way for him to connect to his home country. Later in his life, Pablo Picasso spent many years in the south of France, in the city of Vallauris. He would attend the corrida every Sunday, and it was a frequent subject in his art during these years. One such linoleum cut print, Toros en Vallauris, of 1955, is in the collection of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art.
In 1954 Picasso was invited to produce the annual posters for the bullfights in Vallauris. Toros en Vallauris is an example of these posters, which used stylized corrida imagery and action scenes. To create them, Picasso went back to the method of linocut that he had first learned in 1939. He worked closely with master printer Hidalgo Arnera. Unusually, Picasso used a reductive printmaking method on a single sheet of linoleum rather than creating multiple plates. In doing so, he created a new artistic process for the medium.
Toros en Vallauris is a color linoleum cut print that is nine inches by seven inches. The print combines geometric shapes and bright colors with a hand-drawn, calligraphic feel. An image of a bull and of a torero (bullfighter) or banderillero is embedded within the rectangles at the center of the composition. The figures are simple line drawings. An oval shape around them represents the plaza or stadium. (The corrida typically takes place in a round plaza, outside of town.) There are small circles drawn all around the plaza with simple marks indicating human faces. These are the spectators or aficionados of the bullfight.
In a bullfight there are many different acts. Bullfighting is considered by its aficionados to be an art form because of the complex acts with their coordinated colors and movements. In Picasso’s linoleum cut, the bull is standing upright, tall and strong, his head and horns facing right towards the banderillero. It is a depiction of bravery, early on in the corrida (bullfight). The banderillero is standing up straight and posed. His arms are up holding two lined objects that may be banderillas (“little flags,” which are colorful sticks with a barbed point that are stuck into the bull’s shoulder by the banderillero). These simple printed line marks paint vivid picture of an act within a bullfight known as the “tercio de banderillas.”
The bullfight and the eventual triumph of the matador can symbolize triumph over brute force, instinct, and war. War was still recent and affected the daily life of Picasso and of the people of Europe, both Spain and France, at the time. The torero can symbolize a hero, an artist, an athlete, or a priest. The skill with which he maneuvers and conquers the bull can be seen as a work of art. It can also be seen as cruelty, and death. The dance between the two within the circle of the stadium, beneath the gaze of the aficionados, was like a living form of art for Picasso.
Picasso moved to Vallauris in 1948, at age 66, to learn ceramics. Picasso used the stylized imagery of the bullfight that he had developed in other media in his ceramic works. One example of the many ceramic pieces he did like this is Corrida (bullfight), from 1953. The plate is round and made of white earthenware clay. It was designed by Picasso and then produced for sale by Madoura studios as a “Picasso Edition.” Simplified strokes represent a mounted Picador in the foreground. His lance is stabbing into the neck of a charging bull whose head is lowered. Above them in the background are simple curved horizontal lines indicating the stands and two rows of loose dots to indicate the rows of aficionados or fans. The gestural mark making quality used on this piece is very similar to the mark making Picasso used in his linocut poster pieces like Toros en Vallauris. Like the posters, these plates were designed to be reproduced in mass.
Both Picasso’s ceramics and his linoleum cut posters remain accessible to a variety of people from different walks of life today—just as the sport of bullfighting was accessible to many walks of life when he created them.