He’s studying her, trying to read her thoughts…trying to decide whether she loves him because he’s a monster…
—Pablo Picasso (Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso)
Minotaure caressant du Mufle la Main d’une Dormeuse (1933-1934) by master artist Pablo Picasso belongs to the famed Vollard Suite and survives as one of Picasso’s earliest renderings of the mythological figure, the Minotaur. The piece, which translates to “Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Woman,” depicts the Minotaur—half-man, half-bull—crouching over a sleeping young woman. Here, the dualistic nature of the Minotaur is apparent, Picasso masterfully evoking the creature’s intense, yet tender presence. In 1943, Picasso’s long-time friend, muse and lover, Françoise Gilot, received an invitation to view the Vollard Suite etchings in his private studio. She recalls a fascinating remark made by the artist: “He’s studying her, trying to read her thoughts…trying to decide whether she loves him because he’s a monster..”
The roots of the Minotaur figure can be traced back to ancient Greece, its story associated with the popular myth of the labyrinth. In short, the story is as follows: Pasiphaë—the beautiful daughter of Helios, the Titan god of the sun—was cursed by Poseidon, god of the sea, as revenge for her husband’s wrongdoings. Hopelessly enchanted by Poseidon’s spell, Pasiphaë fell deeply in love with a bull—soon giving birth to their love child, the Minotaur. Though, word of the Minotaur’s unusual form swiftly spread throughout the land—arising suspicion and causing concern. Of no fault of its own, the young Minotaur became largely misunderstood, and was placed in a monumental labyrinth of Daedelus’s creation—condemning the creature to a life of solitude.
Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Woman is an especially intimate piece belonging to the Vollard Suite. The female figure, who is largely accepted as Marie-Thérèse Walter (lover and model of Picasso), appears delicate in her slumber. The broad upper body of the Minotaur hovers above her, crouching before her sweet body—contemplating her beauty and grace. Traditionally, the Minotaur is a figure largely defined by its beastly exterior but here, he appears contemplative, vulnerable and in love. Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Woman flawlessly conveys this creature’s great struggle between its brute appearance and inner (often unacknowledged) compassion. Furthermore, Picasso stylistically conveys this theme surrounding duality through compositional technicalities, striking an expertly juxtaposition between light and darkness.
Ultimately, the composition speaks to the personal turmoil experienced by Picasso during the time of its conception. Then, his marriage was on the rocks and the artist became plagued by depression. In light of this, Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Woman is an especially intimate, emotional piece—created during a uniquely arduous period in Picasso’s life and career. Here, Picasso views the Minotaur as a symbol of himself; a representation of his impulses and constant, dualistic fight between how others perceive him and how he perceives himself. Furthermore, Picasso outspokenly identified with the popular portrayal of the Minotaur as both violent and tender, simultaneously seducing women and being tamed by them. Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Woman explores themes of mythology, identity, creativity and sexuality— eroticizing the relationship between the artist, model and art. Galerie Michael is pleased to present Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Woman, a piece worthy of a private museum quality collection, to collectors worldwide.
From the famed Vollard Suite, Minotaure caressant du Mufle la Main d’une Dormeuse (1933-34) by master artist Pablo Picasso is featured in the following museum collections:
• The Cleveland Museum of Art
• Art Institute Chicago
• Norton Simon Museum
• Philadelphia Museum of ART
• mfa Museum of Fine Arts Boston
• The British Museum
• Hood Museum of Art
• National Gallery of Art