Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Executed in 1936, Nature morte aux citrons is filled with a sense of playfulness yet dates from a period of introspection and turmoil both in Picasso's personal life and in history as a whole. “I paint the same way some people write their autobiography,” Picasso once explained (quoted in J. Richardson, “L'Epoque Jacqueline,” Late Picasso, Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints, 1953-1972, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 28). It is therefore to the artist's life that one looks in order to discover the rationale behind his chosen subjects. At the time the present work was painted, Picasso had recently separated from his wife, Olga, and had established a home with his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter and their daughter Maya; but his relationship with the enigmatic and intellectual Dora Maar was also coming increasingly to the fore. Does the still life of lemons and pitcher imply some moment of domestic stability in his home with Marie-Thérèse? Certainly, life with Dora, of whom he created myriad images during this period, was less homely, and his relationship with Marie-Thérèse continued relatively untroubled for some time after this period.
For Picasso, painting, particularly the genre of still life, had always been deeply autobiographical. Everyday, inanimate objects are charged with a human, and in this case, sexual presence. In Nature morte aux citrons, the ripe fruit and the curvature of the jug and pitcher are all suggestive of the sensual, undulating curves of Marie-Thérèse. The voluptuous blonde here evokes contrasts with the features of Dora Maar, whose ruggedness is suggested in the jagged tabletop and ridged lines in the tablecloth design.
The autobiographical dimension to Picasso's paintings may also mean that his anxieties about the Civil War that had broken out in his native Spain informed, to some degree, this nature morte. Still life painting has long been associated with the tradition of the memento mori. Here, Picasso has brought the lemons to life through his playful use of color; however, the aforementioned jagged forms of the table and table cloth also evoke Picasso’s anxiety about the war, adding a deliberately discomfiting angularity to the painting. “I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict,” Picasso later stated. “But I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done. Later on perhaps the historians will find them and show that my style has changed under the war's influence. Myself, I do not know” (quoted in S.A. Nash, ed., Picasso and the War Years, 1937-1945, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1998, p. 13).
(fig. 1) The artist at the Hôtel Vaste Horizon in Mougins in August 1937. Photo: Lee Miller.