Blind Minotaur Led by a Little Girl in the Night 1934, 24.4cm X 34.5cm by Pablo Picasso British Museum, London
Glover, Michael, The Independent (London, England)
Dealing with Picasso is a little like wrestling the phantom presence of some unkillable Minotaur to the ground. Even now, almost 40 years after his death, we are still discovering him, judging him, assessing his legacy. Matters are complicated by the fact that almost everything Picasso ever made or perhaps even breathed on, no matter how ridiculously slight, turns to gold in the auction room. Much was not gold, of course. It was dross - as it would be with any workaholic artist who produced in excess of 10,000 paintings during his lifetime. (By comparison, 34 are attributed to Vermeer and fewer than 20 to Leonardo). The Picasso industry works judiciously, tirelessly, to sustain the value of the brand in order to maximise the reputation - and therefore the income. So how do we choose something incontrovertibly magnificent? Frankly, we could go anywhere, to any period. A great Picasso happens on the wing. His fertility waxed and waxed, constantly. It was also ceaseless.
Take this etching, for example, numbered 97th from a hundred produced for the dealer Ambroise Vollard during the 1930s over a period of about seven years, and known collectively as the Vollard Suite. You can see it on display in the Prints and Drawings Room of the British Museum until 2 September. To survey this suite, one by one, is to recognise the astonishing versatility and the imaginative reach of this man, his ability to play a bewildering number of variations upon a number of time-honoured themes: the artist in his studio; the artist and his muse; the magical, Pygmalion-like character of the made thing. Unfortunately, you cannot do with an etching what you might do with an oil painting - paint and scrape off, paint and scrape off. Sureness of line is of the essence.
The suite is grounded in classical mythology, as was so much work by Picasso and others after the Great War. This tendency is often regarded as safe and revanchist, as if the war had put the derring- do of modernity to flight forever; as if myth represented some comfortable retreat into the past. Nonsense. A great artist can make anything anew. The great figures of classical mythology were alive for Picasso from first to last. Here we see the raging Minotaur, half man, half bull, of Cretan extraction. It is raging no more. In fact, you could say that it is howling at the moon. It has lost its mighty potency. Now blind and helpless, it is being led along by a little girl, who also clutches a dove. …