La Tauromaquia is a series of 26 aquatint etchings illustrating one of the most important themes of the Catalan culture, the art of the bullfight. Picasso finished this body of work in 1957 as an homage to the famous 18th-century matador, José Delgado Guerra, known colloquially as "Pepe Illo." The text of La Tauromaquia, written by the Illo and first published in 1796, was the first handbook ever published for toreros (bullfighters) and their fans, the aficianados.
Picasso’s fascination with the bullfight started when he was a young boy in Malaga. His childhood notebooks from school are filled with sketches of matadors, bullrings, and picadors. It is a little known fact that the very first oil ever created by the young master was of a matador (1889-1890). The art of the bullfight remained an important theme for the artist and was one that Picasso continued to explore throughout his creative years.
Gustavo Gili Sr. originally commissioned this album in 1927. Picasso at first made a few prints that were used in various other publications. The wars throughout Spain and elsewhere, however, abruptly ended the project. Picasso returned to La Tauromaquia in 1957, after Gustavo Gili Jr. reminded him of the commission.
By directly painting on the copper plates, Picasso employed the "sugarlift-aquatint" process -or "lift ground aquatint" process- to create this portfolio. Picasso learned this rather obscure etching technique from Roger Lacouriere. He first used this technique when creating his 'Vollard Suite' of 1933. Formally, Picasso's use of this process proved incredibly successful, creating the tension and action of the bullring through suggestive shapes and lines.
Picasso at work on 'Paseo de Cuadrillas' from La Tauromaquia in 1957.