© Succession Picasso/DACS 2009
Blind Minotaur guided by Marie-Thérèse in a starry night
Scraped and burnished aquatint with drypoint and burin printed on paper, unsigned printer's proof
Bought from the Rylands Fund with the help of the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, 2009
This is among the most admired prints in the Vollard Suite, Picasso's most celebrated series, which was only previously represented in the Fitzwilliam's collection by a single etching. The dramatic use of aquatint, which is burnished in the manner of a mezzotint, working from velvet black to light (particularly apt for a night scene), makes this perhaps the most spectacular print in the series. The provenance of this unsigned impression from an heir of the printer, Roger Lacourière, suggests that it is one of the few proofs printed by Lacourière at the same time as the edition (of 310) in 1939 (the edition of the Vollard Suite was not printed earlier because of the death of the publisher, Ambroise Vollard).
A group of prints in the Vollard Suite used the artist's self-identification with the mythical minotaur - half-man/half-bull - to embody elements of his relationship with his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter. The beast kept by Crete's King Minos in a deep labyrinth and fed on annual human offerings from Athens became for Picasso a complex symbol of sexual potency and passion, of unconscious impulsions and guilt, of artistic power and human weakness; he was blessed with the vision to see in the darkness of the labyrinth, blinded by the harsh daylight of the human world. The sailors who arrive in the boat with white sails on the right of the print are a reference to those who came to be sacrificed to the minotaur, including Theseus, who sailed to Crete to slay the beast; he achieved this with the help of Minos's daughter Ariadne, whom he promised to marry but later abandoned on the island of Naxos. The blindness of the minotaur in this and several other prints in the Vollard Suite may also imply a reference to the blind Oedipus, who tore his own eyes out with guilt at his crimes (of killing his father and marrying his mother) and set out on a journey guided by his daughter, Antigone. All these references can be linked to Picasso's guilt over his adulterous relationship with Marie-Thérèse, but the personal psychology cannot be disentangled from the overall mythic power of the work.
In the last ten years the Fitzwilliam Museum has strengthened its collection of Picasso's prints, particularly to set in artistic and historical context his masterpiece, the Minotauromachia ('Minotaur-fight') of 1935, which is close to this print in date and imagery.