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1941-1957 Bestiary

Picasso loved animals of all kinds. His particular bestiary consisted of birds - doves, roosters and owls – as well as dogs, cats, bulls, horses and goats, all of which appear repeatedly in his works. He also subjected these creatures to constant metamorphoses, giving them symbolic meanings.

“Picasso may like or detest men, but he adores all animals […]. At the Bateau-Lavoir he had three Siamese cats, a dog, a monkey, and a turtle, and a domesticated white mouse made its home in a drawer of his table. […] In Vallauris he had a goat; in Cannes, a monkey. And as for dogs, there has not been a day in his life when he has been without their companionship. […] If it had depended only on himself, he would always have lived in the midst of a veritable Noah’s Ark.”

[Brassaï. Picasso and Company, 1966, p. 196]

  • Three Doves

    Cannes, 18 November 1960. Oil on canvas, 49.5 × 107.5 cm. Museo Picasso Málaga. Gift of Christine Ruiz-Picasso. MPM1.11. © Museo Picasso Málaga Photo: Rafael Lobato © Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid, 2020

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For Picasso both pigeons and doves were a living reality rather than a symbol. They were a part of his life from childhood. His father was a pigeon fancier and also a painter who specialised in depictions of pigeons and pigeon cotes. A notable example of his work is the oil painting titled Pigeon Cote, which Picasso referred to throughout his life in a hyperbolic manner: ‘A cage with hundreds of pigeons. With thousands and millions of pigeons.’ Picasso depicted this subject in his earliest works and at different times throughout his career.

One of the first birds that he produced was a paper cut-out made in Malaga at the early date of 1890. That same year in Malaga he made his first drawing on the subject, a group of pigeons in a pigeon cote, an initial approach to the theme that already includes the motif of one of the birds in an opening of its cote, as in this oil on canvas, Three Doves.  Picasso’s juvenile sketchbooks are also filled with pigeons and over time they would become his favourite animal in his bestiary, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s. It was at this point that the dove became a world symbol of peace through Picasso’s lithograph made for the World Peace Congress of 1949.

In 1957, in the midst of the taxing process of the creation of the Las Meninas series, the artist painted a series of nine oils of young pigeons. Picasso thus abruptly interrupted the claustrophobic series inspired by Velázquez and immortalised the pigeons that he kept in a dovecote on the top floor of La Californie, with its views of the Bay of Cannes. Three years after that series, Three Doves makes use of a very similar language with a similar geometrised arrangement based on angular forms. The same day that he painted this work, 18 November 1960, Picasso produced a similar oil of horizontal format depicting a pair of doves guarding their nest with blue sky as the background. That work, the Las Meninas series and Three Doves all use the same luminous blue in the background. It is here that one of the differences lies with respect to the artist’s childhood memories; from the closed, detailed, ochre-toned compositions of the father, to the formal, chromatic and above all psychological freedom of the son.

Text: Eduard Vallès “Three Doves”. In Catalogue Pablo Picasso. New Collection 2017-2020, pp. 352-353

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Picasso surrounded himself with various different breeds of dog during his lifetime. And a goat, an owl, and even a monkey also watched him at work in his studio. Doves repeatedly appeared in his paintings, ceramics and graphic work throughout his career. They were creatures that were a part of his personal memories and he often kept doves in his homes and studios in the South of France. From his childhood days in Málaga, when he began to draw, Picasso remembered how difficult it was to draw doves’ feet properly in the drawing exercises that his father José Ruiz Blasco set him. His father specialized in painting doves in dovecotes.

The painter Francoise Gilot, who was Picasso’s muse and partner from 1943 to 1953, remembered: “Pablo loved to be surrounded by birds and all kinds of animals. Animals were generally free from the suspicion with which he regarded his friends. When Pablo worked at the museum in Antibes, Sima came to visit us with an owl he had found in a corner of the museum. One of its claws was damaged. We bandaged it up and it gradually healed. We bought a cage and when we returned to Paris we brought it back with us, and installed ourselves in the kitchen amongst the canaries, pigeons and doves. We were kind to it but it just stared at us…”

In 1949, the poet and editor Louis Aragón went to Picasso’s studio to choose a picture to illustrate the poster for the first World Peace Congress, which was to be held in Paris that same year. They decided on a lithograph of a flying dove. And that’s how it became a powerful, popular and universal symbol of peace. It has been used on countless occasions ever since and had been reproduced on all kinds of supports, for collective actions defending peace, freedom and equality all over the world.