The Three Dancers

Oil on canvas
215 x 142 cm
Tate Gallery, London

From "The Tate Gallery: an illustrated companion":

"The Three Dancers, one of Picasso's key works, was painted in 1925 at a crucial moment in his development, and marks the beginning of a new period of emotional violence and Expressionist distortion.

"The starting point for this picture seems to have been three dancers rehearsing in a room in front of a pair of French windows. The central figure is much the least distorted, but even so her body is very thin and elongated and has an almost ghostly, insubstantial quality. The right-hand figure, on the other hand, is divided into clear-cut, contrasting areas. A strange feature is that the brown section surmounted by a tiny, helmet-like head is entirely surrounded and engulfed by another, much larger black head of a completely different character. Much the most extraordinary dancer, however, is the one on the left, who dances with a much more frenzied action than either of the others and seems to flaunt her sexuality. Particularly remarkable is the rendering of the head which combines a frontal view that is savage and mask-like with a further image of a profile like a crescent moon that is gentle and dreamy in expression.

"A clue to this strange picture is provided by a remark of Picasso's in 1965: 'While I was painting this picture an old friend of mine, Ramon Pichot, died and I have always felt that it should be called "The Death of Pichot" rather than "The Three Dancers". The tall black figure behind the dancer on the right is the presence of Pichot.' The Spanish painter Ramon Pichot died in Paris on I March 1925. His death seems to have reminded Picasso of an incident which took place as long before as 1901 and which inspired several paintings by him at the time, namely the tragic suicide of the young Catalan painter Carlos Casagemas. Casagemas accompanied Picasso on his first visit to Paris in 1900, where he became obsessed with a girl named Germaine. Overcome by depression, thinking only of suicide, he first fired a revolver at Germaine but missed, then shot himself in the head. Germaine married Ramon Pichot shortly afterwards.

"It would appear that after Pichot's death, the picture took on various deeper meanings - a sort of Dance of Death, with Pichot on the right, Germaine on the left, and Casagemas like a crucified figure between them."