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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
No sales tax is due on the purchase price of this … Read more Property from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sold to Benefit the Acquisitions Fund*
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Nature morte

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Nature morte
signed and dated 'Picasso 20.6-21-' (upper left)
oil on canvas
9 x 18 in. (22.9 x 45.7 cm.)
Painted on 20 June 1921
Gordon Onslow-Ford, San Francisco (by 1950).
Gardner Dailey, San Francisco.
Gift from the above to the present owner, January 1951.
San Francisco Museum of Art, Selected European Masters, 1950.
London, The Zwemmer Gallery, date unknown.
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*This lot may be tax exempt from the sale tax as set forth in the Sales Tax Notice at the back of the catalogue.

Lot Essay

Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenicity of this work.

Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

In 1921, the ever-innovative Pablo Picasso found himself at a crossroads. Having invented the groundbreaking language of Cubism in 1907 with Georges Braque, and having seen this style of representation from its initial Analytic phase into its subsequent Synthetic phase, Picasso now sought yet another original idiom. Ironically, this new form of expression would harken back to ancient history; his Neoclassical style would recall the balance, order and harmony of Greece and Rome. Thus, as Carsten-Peter Warncke points out, "one and the same artist was painting classicist nudes, portraits, scenes, and works in the spirit of Synthetic Cubism--at first sight quite incompatible" at the moment the present work was executed (Pablo Picasso: 1881-1973, The Works 1890-1936, 1995, vol. I, p. 245).

The present painting features many hallmarks of Synthetic Cubism. Starting in 1912, Picasso began to replace the fragmented forms and muddily monochromatic tones of Analytic Cubism with a more constructionist collage approach and a brighter palette. The five major forms of the present composition look as though they could be snippets of paper glued onto the canvas. Specifically, the salmon-colored rectangle bears a decorative pattern that suggests a piece of wallpaper, and the tan rectangle suggests the technique of faux bois, or simulated wood grain, that played a central role in the artist's papiers collés. The blue and rose tones which Picasso chose for this canvas not only testify to Synthetic Cubism's more vibrant palette, but also self-consciously refer to the artist's earlier Blue and Rose periods.

Just as Picasso mimics his own collages by simulating wallpaper and faux bois fragments in paint, the words "LE JOU" imitate the newspaper clippings commonly pasted into the artist's collages. Simon Morley describes how the words LE JOURNAL--French for newspaper--"undergo constant metamorphosis, becoming LE JOUR (the day), or LE JOU (which suggests the French word foreplay)" (The Writing on the Wall: Word and Image in Modern Art, Berkeley, 2003, p. 42). Picasso takes pleasure in literally playing the media of painting and collage against one another.

Upon closer inspection, traces of Picasso's Neoclassical inclinations can be discovered in the present painting, as well. The "predilection for a purely linear style [that] was a feature of late 18th-century classicist art" entered his vocabulary during this transitional time (Warncke, op. cit., p. 286). Here, the café glass is rendered with just this kind of fluid line, with no cross-hatched shading to indicate dimension. Even the text, which several years earlier would have been rendered in the thick, blocky font of newspaper typesetting, is executed here with an inky-thin line.

This still life was painted in the same year as Picasso's Trois Musiciens (Coll. Museum of Modern Art, New York), the canvas that many believe to be the culminating composition of Synthetic Cubism. Like that seminal triple portrait, the present work rehearses the highlights of this stylistic period--a pasted paper aesthetic, a colorful palette, textual play--even as the elements of a new aesthetic make their debut.

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