The Three Dancers
“The Three Dancers” is a 215 cm x 142 cm oil on canvas painting, which is situated in Tate Modern in London, England. Pablo Picasso painted “The Three Dancers” in the spring of 1925 in Paris after spending some time in Monte Carlo with his wife, Olga Kokhlova. Originally when Picasso first met Olga, she was part of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Subsequently their trip to Monte Carlo, from which inspiration arose within Picasso to create “The Three Dancers,” was to revisit Diaghlev. By 1925, Picasso was losing interest in his marriage to Olga, to which they later divorced in 1935 and Olga took their son with her.
The painting depicts three abstract dancers. The painting is bright in colour in the background with vibrant blues and reds, however the main focus of the paintings, which are the dancers, are neutral and dim in comparison, perhaps to portray a darkened mood of the subjects themselves. Although the dancer on the right is darker in pigment than the others and is barely visible as if it was cast into the shadows, it portrays a shadow of a realistic face behind it. The dancer on the right has their head turned to face the audience however her body remains in a side profile, bent backwards. This is said to be the interpretation of Ramon Pichot, one of Picasso’s oldest friends from his youth in Barcelona, who also died during the duration of creating this painting. The dancer on the left is said to be Ramon’s wife, Germaine Gargallo. However Germaine was not only Ramon’s wife, but also the girlfriend of the central dancer, Carlos Casagemas who was another friend of Picasso’s. Carlos was crazily in love with Germaine, however she rejected him as she was married to Ramon and it is said that he shot himself, after failing to shoot Germaine 25 years before Ramon died himself. Picasso has said that this particular death was cause to start the Blue Period. The loss of Picasso’s two close friends drove him to paint this love triangle depicted in “The Three Dancers.”
Within “The Three Dancers” Picasso represented dance in the form of rhythm and jazz as a way to portray the classical tones of his life and art at that time. The setting of the scene is supposed to be tranquil and festive, as on a first glance it seems as if it is a bright painting of skilled dancers. The dancers are situated against a window opening to what seems to be a balcony. However, after thoroughly looking at the painting and researching the historical context behind the inspiration for this painting, all order is shattered by what the music is actually doing to these figures. Rather than dancing for enjoyment and pleasurable purposes, the dance portrayed is completely the opposite. The dance portrayed within “The Three Dancers” is a dance of death, automatically giving the painting a cold and dark atmosphere in contrast to the bright and positive one that the audience might see initially. The face of the dancer on the left does not seem to be alive. There are empty sockets in her eyes and black holes where her nose should be which are unmistakably the features of a skull. On the right is someone cast into the shadows and they do not seem to be completely there in comparison to the other dancers. And between them is a convulsed figure, its arms outstretched, its head raised in a represented crucifixion or in plea. Looking again, it can be interpreted that the black railings of the balcony are prison bars. The colour palette of the dancers is neutral and the repeated theme on the wallpaper feels like it is containing them, perhaps even a bit oppressive. Another interpretation of this painting is that when one originally looks at the painting it seems to be three dimensional and painted with the balcony and the windows in the far back behind the dancers.
There are also visual challenges that make “The Three Dancers” a significant painting in social context. In the early twenties, the Blue, Pink and Cubist periods that represent much of Picasso’s finest work had gone past. Picasso was already a very influential figure in regard to the art world, however as time went on there were new challenges. Due to the conservative political climate after World War One, France was less culturally active while rebuilding its infrastructure, so Picasso returned to classic studies. Picasso’s interest in classic painting right before he painted “The Three Dancers” makes his stylistic deviation of this painting abrupt and unexplainable, even for an artist such as Picasso who had already defied tradition almost two decades earlier with the creation of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” However, “The Three Dancers” is a relatively smooth bridge from the visual cubism, which is what he was used to painting, to this narrative cubist-like story and the diverse interpretations, which replace multiple visual viewpoints. In so doing, Picasso remained at the forefront of all movements, even some that he didn’t fully embrace including old continent expressionists, early Surrealism and abstract expressionism.
At an initial glance at “The Three Dancers,” one might think that this is a vibrant surrealist painting, full of life and positivity. However after examining the historical context, there are various contrasts and ambiguities that make this painting deeper and darker than what one might have originally interpreted. Paid as homage to Picasso’s two friends love triangle, this painting not only represents death and the different events in his life, but also a transition of different stylistic elements. This foreshadows later works by means of introducing a new style of painting, thus making it a very significant and successful painting in Picasso’s career.
“Pablo Picasso.” Three Dancers, 1925 by. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.
“Pablo PicassoThe Three Dancers 1925.” ‘The Three Dancers’, Pablo Picasso. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.