This ferocious drawing – “The Murder” is executed in a traumatic period of Picasso’s life. The two figures in the drawing are meant to represent – Marie-Therese Walter (the victim) and Olga Khokhlova (the assailant).


Pablo Picasso’s Drawing “The Murder/Le Meurtre” (1934)

Violence touches or impregnates numerous spheres of human life. It can be direct or indirect, obvious or veiled, impulsive or artificial – squeezed through consciousness, spontaneous or calculative. It can be physical, emotional, intellectualized, in the present or in future tense – menacing or condemning. It can belong to the spheres of international, social and personal relations. It can be vengefully hot or indifferently masked – “polished” by justice and law. It can be made matter-of-factly through red flowers of war. For human beings to become violent is as natural as to sweat or to spit.

Picasso is dedicated to the analysis of human violence (not because of “love” for it, for sure, but because of his horror and disgust) – either as an actual reality or its determinants and consequences. He depicted it in record number of paintings, sculptures and drawings. But “The Murder” is one of his most horrifying works among his impressive number of “violent art” creations. Does his exceptional visual analytic abilities of bringing together raw violence with stylistic “laces” around make his representation of violence in his art less violent? Or does it make them even more violent – when depiction of open violence challenges the viewers’ perception with endless elaborations as it is the case in “The Murder”?

Look at the murderer’s head-face, this ugly ripened fruit of hatred. Here, as in many of Picasso’s works we have a stylistic “fight” between profiles vs. frontal view of the protagonist’s face (given in the act of murdering). Are we seeing the face of the assailant in profile or fully frontal? It’s actually… both. Why does Picasso do it? Probably, to emphasize the intensity of hate he is depicting, hate that feeds and sustains the act of murdering. Hateful emotion psychologically distorts not only the soul of the hater but her face and body. We see the impossible – that the murderer’s right profile jumps to her left profile and this monstrous combination creates – an artificial – combined side of the murderer’s full or frontal face! We are looking at the twisted configuration of a clash between two profiles creating a pseudo-frontal view of a face made up of two profiles. It is, as if, the intensity of hatred so overwhelming that the right profile (together with the left one) creates a monstrous – predatory face ready to swallow the victim. Picasso here creates a monstrous mixture of facial expressions of the murderer.

At first, the right (unseen to us) profile of the murderess violently “attacking” the left profile of her own face – her right eye on her head-face “jumping at her left profile side” follow the outburst of her violent energy instigating her right arm-hand to strike at her victim with a giant blade-knife. The murderess’ right eye and right nostril following the inhuman intensity of her destructive passion now all appear on the left side of her profile. Murderously intense hate creates fragmentation in both – the soul and the body of the hater – here, the disproportionally enlarged right arm with a giant knife. It is, as if, the right and left profile create a monstrous artificial pseudo-frontal face with two eyes and two incredible jaw bones. The right nostril of the murderess has seized a spot on the left side of her nose, near the left nostril, while her right – her furious eye have pressed down her left eye which has lost all vitality. By this aggressive transformation the left profile is transformed into… frontal view of the face where the nose and the jaw are now transformed into two jaws with an exaggeratedly opened mouth filled with enlarged predatory teeth along with a protruding tongue – the face of a monstrous creature is more horrifying than “physiognomy” of a tyrannosaurus. This seeming instantaneous transformation of a human being into a monstrous predator as a murder-machine is, it seems, Picasso’s point about the inevitability of the face and body of a murderer being distorted and violated by her belligerency.

What can be the semantic justification for the artist to produce all these “miraculous” and horrifying transformations when his aesthetic intuitive “reasoning” go together with his dedication to a psychological truth? – He makes his visual images communicate it: the tongue in a position of vomiting became a metaphor of a predatory posture not just as a victory over the enemy but as a destructive consumption. Picasso forcing us the viewers to look at violent feelings and behavior not just as a transfiguration of human being but as the anthropological perversion. Picasso emphasizes that domination and manipulation of the world is the criminal destruction and consumption of the world and life. We enslave other people and the world in order to appropriate and survive on it – this is the basic problem and not the fact that we want and need to survive. Greed and destructive over-consumption is just the beginning of our attack on the world personified by the assailant in “The Murder”.

According to Picasso, the act of vomiting out our hate on the victim and the vomiting of the victim from belonging to humanity is the very basis of violence as a crime. Vomiting another human beings out of life for the sake of our egoistical goals seems to be the main focus of Picasso’s drawing, its basic metaphor. Reducing any object into a means for achieving our plans and needs is a primordial violence against human beings – that’s what we learn from the face of the murderess in Picasso’s “The Murder”.

It seems like the attack is taking place in a bedroom or a bathroom where the victim was resting in bed or washing in the bathtub. We see the assailant’s left arm is grasping and keeping behind on her back what looks like one of Picasso’s paintings which she, probably, just stole from her victim or painter himself.

Picasso’s ambition to depict the intensity of the predatory (consumptive) nature of human hate creating the fragmentation of human body is astoundingly shocking. In a way, his “The Murder/Le Meurtre” is an incredible and a daring experiment, a kind of brainstorming. And Picasso’s unbelievable achievement here suggests that human talent as such is ahead of our everyday misery of choosing obedience over freedom. Human creativity is much ahead of the human calculations of cowardly and predatory survival.


Pablo Picasso, “The Murder”, 1934