Work: 'The Bullfight (El quite)', by Pablo Ruiz Picasso.
Technique: Oil and pastel on card.
Dimensions: 16 x 30 cm.
Collection: Former collection of Santiago Rusiñol. Museu Cau Ferrat, inventory number 30.669.
Description and historical context
All that is usually required in order to analyse a work of art is to look at it objectively. However, in the case of El quite, we can’t avoid referring to Picasso’s love of bullfighting to make a careful reading of the work. And we say “love of bullfighting” to distinguish between those artists who are temporarily seduced by the bullfighting aesthetic and those who are highly knowledgeable about the subject. El quite can be read in different ways: a formalistic approach reveals the pre-fauvist side of Picasso’s work in 1900, pointing to a hitherto unseen aspect of his work. An iconographic reading helps us place it within the artist’s body of work about bullfighting, to compare it with works being produced at the time and to ascertain some of its immediate precedents. A subsequent iconological interpretation will allow us to reveal the true meaning of the work, which is far from random. Finally, a sociological overview will show Rusiñol the collector as a pioneer in the acquisition of Picassos.
The bullfighting theme has a pioneering side which cuts through Picasso’s work. It was his father, José Ruiz Blasco, who introduced his son to the world of bullfighting. This is borne out by the fact that, when Picasso’s was still a child, his father took him to a hotel in Malaga to meet the Andalusian matador Cara-Ancha and Picasso was so impressed that he ended up sitting at his feet. It just so happens that his first engraving and one of his first oils and sculptures were on a bullfighting theme, although they all portray a picador. This pastel and gouache on card almost certainly dates from 1900. If we agree on the fact that it was drawn in situ – the artist himself said that many of his bullfighting works were not done at the bullring – the location may have been the bullring in the district of Barceloneta – which was also known as Torín – which is where Picasso produced most of his bullfighting works in Barcelona. Nevertheless, a second bullring – Las Arenas – opened in Barcelona in June 1900, and this means we can’t be sure where the picture was produced. The bullfighting season began at the start of spring and ended at the beginning of autumn, and Picasso probably produced this work between these dates.
That same year, Picasso began a series of works on bullfighting with a particular interest in studying the light, using vibrant colours redolent of pre-fauvism. Some of these bullfighting works, which, it appears, were only in oil, were included in Picasso’s less well-known, second solo exhibition at the café Els Quatre Gats, in July 1900. The critic Frederic Pujulà i Vallès, who wrote the only surviving review of the show, mentioned this unique aspect when he described the “blinding light beating down on the front rows of seats” and he then referred to the public as “blotches” and the bullfighters as “silhouettes”. In El quite the public is merely hinted at by a couple of brushstrokes and the bullfighters are constructed from the blotches so that the forms are created almost through the colours alone. The composition is divided into two halves: the bullfighters are depicted in the foreground with white, green, purple and orangey strokes, and the sun-drenched stands are shown in the background, in cadmium yellow. A number of similar pastels survive from this period, including El toril obert (The Open Bull Pen – Collection of Mr & Ms Henry John Heinz II, Saint Petersburg). In this series, Picasso usually combined pastel with oil and/or gouache, and he used canvas as well as paper as a support medium, as is the case with the work in this article. Picasso himself told Pierre Daix that he considered these works to be true “paintings”.
This work is, first and foremost, an artificial recreation of the colours of a bullfight. It is simply the sublimation of the sun-drenched atmosphere of an afternoon at the bullring when Picasso gives prominence to the bullfighting aficionado’s sensory perception over the objective portrayal of the spectacle. During 1900, his work had taken a new direction and there emerged, quite unexpectedly, a hitherto unseen Picasso who was working in dazzling colours. Francesc Fontbona attributes this to Anglada-Camarasa’s exhibition at the Sala Parés in April, as nobody else on the Barcelona art scene was producing similar works.This interest in the light and luminosity of the bullfight, which has been termed tauroluminous, tied in with the works of the previous generation of artists, including Ramon Casas and Darío de Regoyos, whose works can also be seen at Cau Ferrat. Picasso not only inherited his approach to the use of light from both artists, his approach to perspective and framing was inherited from the former, and a focus that was often negrista in style from the latter. For instance, oils such as El toro esventrat (The Eviscerated Bull, Niarchos Collection) remind us of Regoyos’ Las víctimas de la fiesta (The Victims of the Fiesta).
To our way of thinking, the perennial title La cursa de braus (The Bullfight) is too generic for this work. Picasso was a bullfighting aficionado who was knowledgeable about the sport, and bullfighting is, certainly, an activity with its own unique system of predetermined manoeuvres. Throughout the history of art, we can find thousands of similarly titled works, even by Picasso himself. We decided to call it El quite because this is exactly what Picasso shows in this picture. The quite is a manoeuvre that takes place in the first of the three stages of the bullfight, which is known as the tercio de varas. Once the bull has been wounded with the lance or pica, the matador, or any of the other bullfighters, can take turns to perform a series of passes – known as the quite – where they can show off their bullfighting skills. Then the matador moves in close to the bull while the team wait expectantly in the ring. If we look closely, we will see how the matador in the centre of the composition is the only one moving towards the animal who has been struck with the lance, as is shown by the blood gushing from its back.
To conclude, we will refer to the origins of this work. According to Palau i Fabre, Picasso told him that Rusiñol purchased the Cau Ferrat Picassos in person at Els Quatre Gats: “The half a dozen works at Cau Ferrat in Sitges are from the auctions for friends that Picasso organised at the 4 Gats to pay for his supper. ‘Who’ll bid the highest?’ And it was nearly always Rusiñol who took away the work.” Some of the early works that may have been part of this series were in Barcelona collections; two came from the Riera collection, one from the Barbey collection and another was from Enric Morera’s collection. However, many of them were purchased by collectors and museums abroad and Rusiñol’s is one of the few that remain in Catalonia. El quite, together with other Picassos from his collection, appeared in 1917, at Rusiñol’s behest, in the magazine L’Esquella de la Torratxa and it was clearly stated that it had never been published before. Like many other Catalan artists and critics, Rusiñol had rejected Picasso’s cubist adventure, but never called into question his skill as an artist. Shortly before he died he said “Now, he paints as a joke and, what’s more, he’s a great painter”. However, this was 30 years later. What really interests us is that, around 1900, before the world hadn’t even begun to appreciate Picasso’s potential, Rusiñol had already bought half a dozen works from him.