Although never an official member of the Surrealists, despite Breton’s efforts to coopt him, Picasso nevertheless participated in many of their exhibitions and activities in Paris. His work between 1926 and 1939 has been called surrealist because of its fanciful imagery and sexually charged motifs, but despite many shared features, Picasso’s desire to interpret the real world was at odds with Surrealism’s imaginary inner-generated visions.
Here, he was inspired by bathers on a beach that he had previously sketched, painted, and sculpted in Cannes (1927) and Dinard (1928). In these earlier works, as in this 1929 painting, Picasso ultimately transforms the human figure into a strange mutated being, part geometric masonry, part inflated balloon. The features of the female physique metamorphose into one another—the rounded buttocks also suggesting breasts, the pointed breasts suggesting sharp teeth, and the horizontal slit, a reference to both navel and genitals. The overall effect is conflicted, showing both monumentality and vulnerability, sensuality and cold detachment, as if two different sensibilities inhabit this figure. Such imagery may have been a reflection of the artist’s own anguished love life at the time. Married to Olga Khokhlova since 1918, he had been having an affair with a beautiful young teenager, Marie-Thérèse Walter, since the summer of 1927, which would last through the 1930s.
Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY