Brushes with surrealism: 1925–1935

We claim him unhesitatingly as one of us.

- surrealist André Breton

Jean Cocteau introduced Picasso to André Breton and his surrealist circle. Picasso showed some of his cubist works at the first surrealist group exhibition in 1925 and designed the cover of the first issue of their journal, Minotaure. Revived by the surrealists, the half-man, half-bull minotaur of classical mythology also became a kind of alter-ego for Picasso, reappearing throughout his career.

The surrealists advocated no one style of art but operated with deliberate irrationality, evoking subconscious associations and dream states. This found a parallel in Picasso’s expressive and sometimes extreme distortions of the figure, often into animal-like forms. However Picasso’s involvement with the movement remained marginal: as in most of his artistic associations, he always remained strongly independent.

In the early 1930s, Picasso produced a number of spare landscapes peopled by extremely distorted nudes. Combining eroticism and violence, they leaned ever closer to surrealism, while a series of enormous bronze heads cast in 1931, brought their rotund, pebble-like shapes into three-dimensional form.

La lecture

oil on canvas, 162 × 130 cm, Pablo Picasso Bequest, 1979, MP137 © Succession Picasso, 2011/licensed by Viscopy, 2011 © Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux/René-Gabriel Ojeda © Musée National Picasso, Paris

La lecture
The reader

This portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter bears many of the hallmarks of Picasso’s series of nudes inspired by his young lover: lyrical curves, joyous colours, decorative patterning and an emphasis on her defining blonde hair. The pair met in 1927, when Walter was aged 17, and Picasso created clear references to her in his work while trying to keep their affair clandestine. Later in life, Picasso revealed that even the large still-life Grande nature morte au guéridon (Still-life on a pedestal table) 1931, also in this room, was a disguised ‘portrait’ of Marie-Thérèse, the parts of the table and its contents doubling as parts of her body.