Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) (1922) by Picasso
Meaning of Classicist Figure Painting

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"Two Women Running on
the Beach" By Picasso.
Dionysian Maeneds in a
state of ecstasy.
Regarded as one of the
great 20th century paintings.

Two Women Running on the Beach (1922)


Picasso's Neoclassicism
Analysis of Two Women Running on the Beach
Explanation of other Paintings by Picasso


Name: Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) (1922)
Artist: Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Medium: Gouache on Plywood
Genre: Classical mythological painting
Movement: Classicism
Location: Musee Picasso, Paris

For an explanation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

For analysis of pictures by
modern neoclassical artists
like Pablo Picasso, see:
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Picasso's Neoclassicism

Picasso is widely regarded as one of the best artists because of his creative ability to inject traditional genres and styles with a modern aesthetic. His classical figure painting entitled Two Women Running on the Beach, for example, is a long way from Cubism - the movement of abstract art for which he is most famous - but it is firmly within the naturalist idiom of pictures like Boy with a Pipe (Garcon à la Pipe) (1905, Private Collection). Indeed, his Cubism could be seen as merely another type of classicism - a radical, 'abstract' form of classicism - a view taken by several art critics who saw Cubism (like classicism) as a form of painting based on structure and form, and determined by systems based on geometry.

In any event, between about 1906 and 1926, Picasso created a monumental modern style of neoclassical painting - incorporating portraits, figure paintings and still lifes - which constituted an important and influential contribution to the Classical Revival in modern art (c.1900-30).

Among his most famous neoclassicist works are: Two Nudes (1906, MOMA, New York), Seated Woman (Picasso) (1920, Paris), Large Bather (1921, Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris) and Woman in White (1923, Metropolitan Museum, NY). For the full story, see: Neoclassical Paintings by Picasso (1906-30).



Analysis of Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) by Picasso

In June 1922 Picasso went to Dinard in Brittany with his wife Olga and their son, remaining until the end of September. This little panel painting was completed there. Although diminutive in scale, it is as monumental in effect as anything Picasso painted, and, greatly enlarged, it was used for the curtain of "Le Train Bleu". This was a new ballet, with a chic and amusing story-line by Jean Cocteau, scenery by Laurens, costumes by Coco Chanel, and music by Milhaud, and it was first performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on 20 June 1924. The theme was games on the beach - hence the choice of Picasso's painting for the curtain.

In 1928 when he was in Dinard again, and after he had begun his liaison with the much younger Marie-Therese Walter, Picasso painted a series of pictures of bathers in striped swimsuits playing ball on the beach, provoked partly perhaps by his memories of the ballet. They, like this painting, allude humorously to the cult of sport and fitness prevalent in the 1920s.

The classical sources of The Race have often been discussed, and it has been pointed out that the two girls rushing wildly along the shore are maeneds in ecstasy [female followers of Dionysus, the god of ecstasy, who were tempted by him into a state of ecstatic frenzy resulting from a mixture of dancing and intoxication], based either on antique originals (reliefs on Bacchic sarcophagi or similar scenes on Greek vases), or on neoclassical derivatives (such as paintings by Nicolas Poussin of Bacchanalian revels). Most of the neoclassical paintings Picasso made after the war were absolutely static, in imitation of the famed calm, serenity and order of both Greek art and later Roman art. However, a substantial body of his 'minor' works - whether small paintings or drawings - depicted unleashed frenzy and passion, of the kind identified as quintessentially 'Dionysiac' by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy (1872). (Nietzsche had described this 'Dionysiac' strain as the ever-present counterpart to 'Apollonian' serenity, and argued that the Greek cult of reason and serene beauty was a sublimation of the dark, anarchic forces of the human psyche released in the Dionysiac cults.)

In 1925 Picasso gave his most memorable and alarming statement of the Dionysiac impulse, this time in a large painting, Three Dancers (1925, Tate Collection, London). The middle and left-hand figures there are based on the two women in The Race.

NOTE: Other leading modernists also contributed to the classical revival. For example, De Chirico produced Song of Love (1914) and Uncertainty of the Poet (1913). Leger produced: The Mechanic (1920); Three Women (1921); Nudes against a Red Background (1923); and Two Sisters (1935). Carlo Carra produced several Giotto-inspired works, such as The Drunken Gentleman (1916).

Explanation of other Paintings by Picasso

La Vie (Life) (1903) Cleveland Museum of Art.

Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906) Metropolitan Museum, NY.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) MOMA, NY.

Guernica (1937) Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid.

Weeping Woman (1937) Tate Modern, London.


• For an explanation of other classicist figure paintings, see: Homepage.

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