picasso, two women running on the beach, 1922

 

Two Women Running on The Beach is a painting on a small panel done by Picasso during his neoclassical period in 1922. It is often regarded as one of his most important miniature paintings. Due to his connection with the Russian ballet Parade, Picasso visited Italy in 1917.[1] After this trip he continued his participation in the “return to order” by painting “timeless and traditional themes derived from antiquity.”[2] Two Women Running on The Beach depicts two large half naked women running wildly along the shore. Greatly enlarged, this painting was used for the curtain of the ballet production Le Train Bleu which had the theme “games on the beach.”[3] Like other paintings from Picasso’s neoclassical period, this painting is not perfectly classical and in many ways Picasso is mocking the “return to order” movement through it.

Two Women Running on The Beach is a small gouache painting on plywood which is an old fashioned surface. Miniatures themselves are traditional forms of painting. Picasso has also used a classical looking palette in this painting. The tan bodies of the women are contrasted by the brilliant blue of the background. The background, however, is oversimplified without any details and the sea and the sky seem to merge into each other. Even the brush work of this painting is crude, rough and untraditional.

Although miniature in scale, it portrays two women that are very similar to Picasso’s “monumental nudes” in appearance and are reminiscent of antiquity. Although these women are dressed in classical clothes, they are hardly an embodiment of the ideal classical body. They appear clumsy with their dresses falling off. Both are large with heavy hands and feet and have exposed breasts. Exposed breasts have been the traditional symbol of truth and liberty. In this painting, however, the exposure is caused by carelessness and does not evoke any sense of appreciation for the body. Picasso also manipulates the bodies of the women to exaggerate their poses and make them appear wild. The body of the woman who is behind the first one is especially contorted with her right leg stretching too far back to an unrealistic length. The disjuncture of the bodies of the two women emphasizes their largeness.

Based either on antique originals such as the reliefs on Bacchus sarcophagi, or on neoclassical derivatives such as Poussin’s paintings of Bacchanalian revels, the two girls in the painting have often been identified as classical “maeneds in ecstasy.”[4] The mythological maenads were the raving female followers of the Greek god Dionysius who symbolized unadulterated human passions. Unlike his other neoclassical paintings in which the figures are absolutely static, this one depicts unleashed wildness. The women in this painting are not the still classical figures that emanate calm and serenity. Instead, this painting depicts “unleashed frenzy and passion.”[5] The women appear free and seem utterly joyous while their hair flows back due to the wind as they run with their hands held high. Picasso is retrenching into the ancient arts by painting these maeneds, while most of the other return to order artists revived the Renaissance style of painting. At the same time he seems to be mocking the traditional composed, stiff and formal demeanor of the subjects of classical paintings.

Despite some classical characteristics, this painting is clearly not classical in nature. Although the appearance of the painting reminds the viewer of Greco-Roman antiquity, the details do not. It has a rustic quality but the figures are clumsy and careless about their appearance and clothes. This painting also demonstrates a strong sense of motion. It alludes satirically to “the cult of sport and fitness” popular in the 1920’s.[6] At the same time, it seems as though the figures in the painting are so heavy that they shake the earth while moving. This too suggests that Picasso’s intentions while painting this were not solely to return to the classical way of painting. At least to a certain degree, he was mocking the return to order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Cowling, Elizabeth, Jennifer Mundy. On Classic Ground : Picasso, Léger, de Chirico, and the      New Classicism, 1910-1930. London : Tate Gallery, 1990.

Galloway, John. Picasso. New York: McGraw Hill, 1969.

 


[1] John Galloway, Picasso (New York: McGraw Hill, 1969), 43.

[2] Elizabeth Cowling, Tate Gallery, On Classic Ground: Picasso, Léger, de Chirico and the New Classicism, 1910-1930 (Tate Gallery, 1990), 200.

[3] Ibid., 218.

[4] Cowling and Gallery, On Classic Ground, 218.

[5] Ibid., 218.

[6] Cowling and Gallery, On Classic Ground, 218.

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