In his lifetime, Pablo Picasso revealed two works under the title Three Dancers. The first of which is a classical rendition of three ballerinas in dancing shoes and leotards, pirouetting about one another with arms extended. The work was done sometime in the early 1900's and appears to be composed of charcoal and paper. The only images in the sketch are the three female dancers and their respective lump of a shadow on the wall behind them.
The next piece revealed by Picasso under the same name would not be as docile.
Composed in 1925, Three Dancers (occasionally referred to as Three Dancers (2)) is Picasso's most renown surrealistic painting. The piece, at first glance, holds three women dancing in an exuberant state in an apartment. When the history of the piece is examined, however, all upbeat enthusiasm leaves the piece. Inspired by deaths of those closest to him, during a particularly rocky part of his marriage to Olga Kokhlova, several painful memories from Picasso's past (such as the suicide death of Carlos Casagemas which Picasso admits to beginning his Blue Period) resurface with abandon to scream forth in this piece.
While painting Three Dancers as a surrealistic piece Ramon Pichot passed away, a close childhood friend of Picasso's. The shadow of the dancer to the far right is the darkened profile of this man's face as if he was a young man again. There has been widespread speculation by art critics that this profile is not that of Pichot, for the man always had a distinctive beard. It is suggested that the dancer on the right is Picasso's wife, Kokhlova, and that the figure is barely there to represent her growing distance from Pablo and the shadow represents Picasso's disdain for the relationship. This fallacy is written off however because Pichot and Picasso were closest as children, before the beard grew out thus making his profile appear feminine. The importance of identifying the shadowed profile as Pichot is threefold.
Once the profile can be accepted as Pichot, the figure on the far left can be identified as Germaine Gargallo, Pichot's wife. Earlier in life, Gargallo had been the girlfriend of another person close to Picasso, Carlos Casagemas. Casagemas, represented by the figure in the center who is dancing in a "crucified" position, fell madly and deeply in love with Gargallo, and once rejected by her committed suicide. While Picasso was still painting this piece, the death of his close friend awokened all these memories and he unleashed the savage visuals of his pain and sadness upon his canvass.
Three Dancers is ultimately a painting filled with death. The figure on the left is consumed by death which surrounds her... the sunken eyes and darkened facial features represent the death of close ones which weigh down on her spirit. The figure on the right is ethereal, barely there such that their shadow seems to be of more consistency than the figure. The central figure is already dead, a glorified specter of the past. The arms of the central figure seem to be pleading for assistance, or uncontrolled in an agony/ecstasy that they cannot communicate. At any rate, the dull, repeated pattern of the walls and the "bars" covering the windows seem to oppress the three dancers, to contain them in their prison of death. There is another stark image suggesting the lack of light under the left arm (as viewing) the central figure. Combined with the arm of her fellow dancer, the two created a "hidden" wine bottle containing a female breast and the blade of a large knife. This image does violence to the imagination, and suggests an anti-fertility of the participants of the dance.
Currently residing in the Tate Modern of London, Three Dancers is a fantastically vivid work of Picasso's, calling into analysis a handful of different interpretations from nearly as many different viewers. The painting was completed in Paris and mere weeks after unveiling appeared in André Breton's manifesto on Surrealism and Painting.