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10. 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
Gift of Christine Ruiz-Picasso
© Museo Picasso Málaga. Photo: Rafael Lobato © Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid, 2017

Read about Three Doves

For Picasso both pigeons and doves were a living reality rather than a symbol. It should be remembered with relation to his childhood that his father was a pigeon fancier and also a painter who specialised in depictions of pigeons and pigeon cotes. A notable example is his father’s oil painting Pigeon Cote which Picasso referred to throughout his life in a hyperbolic manner: “A cage with hundreds of pigeons. Thousands and millions of pigeons.” Picasso depicted this subject in his earliest works and at different times throughout his career. One of the first pigeons that he produced was a paper cut-out made in Malaga at the early date of 1890. That same year and again 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 baby 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 geometrized 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 repeat the same background of a luminous blue sky. 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 Vallés