The theme of bathers, and indeed beach scenes in general, always held a great fascination for Pablo Picasso, who depicted them from different approaches and in a succession of styles. However, both for the atypicality of its iconography and the size and technique, La nageuse (The Swimmer) constitutes a special case within Picasso’s universe of sea-themed figures and objects. Unlike most cases, in this picture from 1934 Marie-Thérèse Walter primarily inspires fear. Her blond hair has been transformed into a stiff plume, which seems to end in a knifepoint, and the magnetism emanating from her squinting eyes is surpassed only by the sensation of greed transmitted by her funnel-like mouth, waiting to swallow a hypothetical prey. Brandishing her femininity – embodied in her heavy breasts – like a banner, rather than enjoying the welcoming embrace of the water, this ambiguous and terrifying character, with its huge stiff fin-like hands, seems to be preparing for an imminent attack. Given the proximity of armed conflict in his own country, it would not be too farfetched to believe that Picasso conceived this ghostly apparition as a distant antecedent of Guernica itself.
Paloma Esteban Leal