Picasso On Androgyny: From Symbolism Through Surrealism

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Ellen C. Oppler

Second Advisor

Walter Sutton


Fine Arts

Subject Categories

Modern Art and Architecture


This dissertation traces Picasso's exploration of androgyny as a structure for generating meaning in visual art from 1901 through the late 1930's. In general, Picasso moves from rapproching the signs for male and female, for the masculine and the feminine; to inventing composite signs that designate both in one figure; to juxtaposing disparate signs for both in a much more radical joining of sexual signifiers than theretofore in his art.

After an initial discussion of signification in visual art, Part One compares Picasso's treatments of androgyny in his rose, cubist, and neoclassical periods with some sexually polarized works of his early career and with the symbolist model of androgyny. Part Two places Picasso's work of the late twenties and the thirties in the context of the second artistic movement to affect markedly the content of his art: surrealism. In a series of sculptures completed at Boisgeloup in 1932, Picasso attempts to integrate his earlier version of androgyny, based upon the individual, with the more complex surrealist version, based upon the couple. The ultimate product of this struggle is the Great Head of Boisgeloup, which becomes Picasso's summary statement on androgyny, as is demonstrated by an examination of the paintings, drawings, and etchings that derive from it in the course of the decade.

One aim of the dissertation is diachronic: to regularize the discussion of this most slippery idea, androgyny, so that the schools that impinge upon Picasso's treatment of it may be compared: the symbolists, the modernists, and the surrealists. A second aim of the dissertation is interdisciplinary: to bring to bear upon the visual art of this era as much of the last decade's discussion of androgyny as is appropriate to the topic--especially, the contributions made by feminists and social scientists. A third aim is synchronic: to prepare the way for a discussion of androgyny in the arts of modernism in general. In particular, the terms developed for discriminating different models for androgyny in visual art will provide the basis for a more fruitful discussion of androgyny in the literature of the era as well.


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