Overview of thoughts on Picasso drawing by Dr Ralph Goldstein*







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"Dated 12/5/34 15" square ink and gouache on paper then laid to card.

The pose and composition, are somewhat reminiscent of The Three Dancers, reproduced by Penrose[9] on p.95. There the LHS figure (a shrieking maenad) has her head tilted back even further than the LHS figure in this drawing. A similar crossing / crucifixion exists in both compositions. But the Dancers was Dionysian in character, unlike this picture. Another immediately striking aspect of the picture is the strong division into a light and a dark side by the use of the gouache. The RHS figure is totally in the dark side.

On the assumption that this picture is by Picasso then, surely, the LHS figure is Marie-Therese Walther and the RHS figure is Olga Koklova, Picasso's then wife (but formal divorce was imminent). She is not represented as sexual, but is forbidding)id( and p posed (haughty dancer?). But perhaps there is a hint of the marital bed in the lower background? And the stretched / crucified figure - psychologically, not physically; there is no cross, more a Brechtian Chalk Circle - is Picasso himself. His figure seems to stand on a ladder (a crucifixion symbol in earlier paintings) with the left foot (RHS) vaguely outlined but on a higher step. Taking account of the left knee and the right foot, it seems as if this figure may be descending the ladder. Compare this compositional device with Minotauromachy, in which an escaping bearded figure on the L.H.S looks back down from a ladder; probably a symbol of Picasso himself.

On the human level, it seems to be that the LHS figure does not wish to see, or has been prevented / blind-folded, from seeing the problems caused by her (reciprocated) love. And perhaps Picasso did blame her somewhat afterwards. In sharp contrast, the gaze of the figure drawn against the dark background cannot be escaped.

But, on a supra-personal level, Marie-Therese could also be the blind goddess of fate - albeit she seems also to turn away in shame. What we seem to have is a (schizoid) process of inflation - i.e. captured by archetypal powers - these human persons / figures having simultaneously to bear the Olympic burden of gods; of eternal human questions or paradoxes.

I am extremely grateful to Mark Harris both for letting me see this drawing and for his generosity with his time and thoughts. The two women incarnate aspects of the archetypal anima[5] and Picasso incarnates the Hermes/Eros life and death principle, or struggle for the soul (psychopompus). But the humans are powerless in the face of destiny - or the fates arranged by the gods. Picasso's anima, his new creative inspiration/ arlir7lation is a kind of Faustian Helen; see p. 195 of M-L von Franz' paper [3].

The immediate impact of the picture is on the observer's feelings, rather than aesthetic senses - this is a picture drawn by someone in great pain and distress. How is Picasso to be rescued from this crucifying fate? By Hermes guide of Souls and source of the masculine aspects of life. If this struggle can be resolved Picasso will be able to paint again; and, indeed, Hermes has already alighted on Marie-Therese's shoulder (see below). The resolution is plain to see in the picture.

In fact, Marie-Therese was an inspiration for many pictures. But this personal dark night of the Soul occurred at a very dark (and darkening) period of history. Just three years later Picasso was led to one of his greatest works, Guernica, 1937 [1]. Creative powers of such magnitude would not have been available while he was stuck in the Dilemma represented in this picture of struggle and unhappiness.

We should note that, as Jaffe (1988) wrote, "In the art of Picasso, the personal became impersonal, his own experience became the experience of his age, of mankind''. He also quotes Picasso as having said; "The work one does is another way of keeping a diary". Thus, this psychological interpretation parallels the art historical view.

Related to the idea of a diary, to which this picture may well belong, is another sense of the word hermetic. What is hermetic about this picture is that it prefigures a decision about life involving others. Therefore, it is necessarily secret or hi(hidden (as a diary usually is), until the decision can be announced. Additionally, the decision is to some extent hidden or unannounced (unconscious) for the person in the throes of such a conflict.


We need to justify the above view by reference to the details in the picture. Perhaps the key is the light and the dark anima, a concept to which C.G. Jung refers in his comments on the Picasso retrospective of 1932 in Zurich [4]. The anima and the animus are two archetypal figures of especially great importance. They belong on the one hand to individual consciousness and on the other hand they are rooted in the collective UNCONSCIOUS, thus forming a bridge between the personal and the impersonal (cultural, universal), the conscious and the unconscious [5]. One is feminine and the other masculine (in terms of imagery and embodiment.) These figures often appear early on in psychotherapy in terms of dreams, images and inter-personal problems e.g. relationships, power and creativity.

So the image of the 'dark night of the soul' (dark anima) can be applied to this drawing. This is night in another sense, the night of the psychopomp (see [6] p. 51), the night of generation and the night of dying. One relationship glows as another fades with all the sense of loss and pain for the one who does the leaving as well as the one who is left. Clearly, something has turned dark or negative in the once fruitful wife. Her figure is placed against a very dark background. Picasso is is also partly surrounded by dark background; he seems isolated. But his right hand, outstretched, reaches into the light.

The light anima is represented by the figure on the left who is drawn against a light background and is very feminine and alluring. In fact, the girl / maenad is actively masturbating), an (auto)erotic statement. Is she unaware of her own erotic power and UNCONSCIOUS of the forces unleashed in others by her perceived eroticism?

The object perched on the shoulder of Marie-Therese is a head(l and torso (cut off at the knees) looking to the left. He is bearded with wings and a hat or helmet, and something that seems to screen his vision, a screen matching the blindfold? There may be 7 lines in the lyre-like shape in front of his face. Some hold that the lyre invented by Hermes had 7 strings (Graves p. 65). There is a picture of a terra cotta statuette of a girl with Eros from the en(l of the classical period reproduced on p. 145 of Kerenyi's book on Eleusis [7]. The composition is startlingly similar, especially in terms of Eros being perched on the shoulder of the girl.

However, the Eros-like figure is bear(led and wears a cap reminiscent of Hermes' hat as ]illustrated on the cover of Kerenyi's book on Hermes Guide of Souls [6], taken from an attic red-figured bowl. There Hermes carries his lyre in his left hand and his magic wand in his right. He is also bearded.

Therefore, it seems that this figure is a composite of Eros, son of Hermes and Hermes himself. It is also probably an aspect Picasso himself.

On the extreme RHS is a possibly a cartoon, reminiscent of the later Smoker series in style, of Picasso's face worn on Olga's sleeve with a cut-off outstretched something to the right (see studies for the Crucifixion [1929] reproduced in Blunt [1] p. 27, plate lla). Now what is beyond the same arm towards the centre? A little girl with her arms around what? A draped, almost swaddling, cloak heavily drawn in? (See the later little girl with dove?) A reference to Madonna and child in front of Olga? This may not be too fanciful if we remind ourselves of the Spanish Catholic culture in which Picasso was brought up. The wife / Madonna and first-born child are especially magical and profound symbolic beings.

Just above these puzzling figures is a series of circular shapes within a dome, which is almost connected to another puzzling shape)e, but strongly defined shape. There is a dark circular disc surrounded by a lot of squiggly lines. Effort went into this area of the drawing, yet the result is childish or corrupted. Is it conceivable that it is a corruption of a nimbus, which is itself related to the idea of a halo?

The nimbus, or halo, surrounding the head of a holy person symbolises the divine light shining from the sanctified personality; the MANDORLA, or vesica piscis, depicted here, encloses the entire body of a person of special dignity and holiness [2].

A person's wife and mother of the first-born child would have been such a special person, until those feelings become corrupted or corroded by dread, antagonism and divorce (splitting, separation). The possibilities of playing with the word "pisces" may also be relevant. How should we read the strong light curve under the very dark semi-circle above Olga's head? Perhaps there is an eclipse of the moon (a fundamental symbol of the feminine) around (l Olga's head? Balanced perhaps by the curious, almost child-like circles over Marie-Therese's head? But these are not centred, but eccentric; not a true wholeness? See the idea of a pearl oyster.

The helmet shapes in the centre are empty of eyes. The figure which seems to have all eye lla.s an ill-defined head! Indeed, one does not see him for quite a while. There seem to be 4 heads where the body of the person stretched in both directions. There is a thick dividing line down the middle (see Minotauromachy?) Are these potential animus figures, fighters? Now the number 4 would be significant (fourfold development; see M-L Von Franz)

Is there a little monkey? or owl?), but faded, on top of the Hermes cap? Or just a smudge?

Resolution of the Dilemma

Picasso's trousered leg takes a step/l)points towards Marie-Therese (they met in 1927). ,She cannot yet be pregnant with Maya (b. 5/10/35). Maya, christened Maria Concepcion, which were the names of his 2 sisters and close to Marie of Marie-Therese. But he called her Maya the mother of Hermes.

Between the LHS figure and the centre figure - above and beyond the lines suggesting a step-ladder - are strong horizontal lines, reminiscent of other drawings of Marie-Therese. Here these lines may be a reference to the bario of the bull-fight. Once Picasso comes out from behind the barrier / breaks cover and goes public with his desire for a divorce and the freedom to be with Marie-Therese then he would be in as much danger as if he were in the bullring. There was a great personal cost to pay and Olga was threatening, under French divorce law, to take ownership of all his work. Nevertheless, the drawing clearly prefigures Picasso's decision to go ahead. It may be relevant that the date, signature and fingerprint are placed below Picasso's right foot.

Bottom centre right; are there doves / bird shapes between the leading leg of Olga and the darkest part of the gouache?

Olga's shoes; ballet dancer's shoe or is one foot winged as in Hermes figure? There is something odd on Olga's head, possibly a bird. See an early bust of a Harlequin from 1905 with a bird on top. See also African Art by Mauze p. 84 & p. 67; a toucan (hornbill) presides over ploughing, sowing and harvesting (Baule from Ivory Coast, ancestor mask topped with a toucan). So a reference perhaps to fecundity and domesticity. Alternatively, or additionally, Mark Harris points out that this may be Picasso's open left hand stretched across the light part of Olga's exquisitely drawn face (especially the eye).

In connection with the idea of representing both a personal and near universal problem in art, it is worth quoting Neumann [8] p. 97 See also pp 93-94

The need of his times works inside the artist without his wanting it, seeing it, or understanding its true significance. In this sense he is close to the seer, the prophet, the mystic. And it is precisely when he does not represent the existing canon, but transforms and overturns it that his function rises to the level of the sacral, for he then gives utterance to the authentic and direct revelation of the numinosum.

There is another group of crucifixion drawings made in 1932 at a time of stress - based on study of Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece, a masterpiece of l6th cent expressionist tragedy (p. 26)

We know that Picasso was illustrating Ovid's Metamorphoses at this time, so he would have been familiar with classical myths. Nevertheless, this probably does not exhaust the contents of this drawing, especially the very dense working on the body of the figure I take to be Picasso."

* Dr Ralph Goldstein is a clinical psychologist and Jungian Analyst who worked for a number of years in close association with the late Dr Susan Bach of Switzerland.


[1] Anthony Blunt. Picasso's Guernica. Oxford University Press, 1969.
[2] JC Cooper. An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols Thames and Hudson, 1979.
[3] C.G. Jung et al. Man and His Symbols. Picador, 1964.
[4] C.G. Jung. The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature. ARK, 1966/1984.
[5] Emma Jung. Animus and Anima. Spring publications, Texas, 1981.
[6] Karl Kereni. Hermes Guide of Souls. Spring publications, Texas, 1997.
[7] Karl Kereni. Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter. Princeton University Press, 1976.
[8] Erich Neumann. Art and the Creative Unconscious Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959.
[9] Roland Penrose. Picasso. Phaidon Press, London, 1991.

Interpretations of the 1934 Drawing

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© Mark Harris 1996 (content), Simon Banton 1996 (design)

In general copyright of works by Pablo Picasso are the property of the heirs to the Pablo Picasso estate