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Jacques Villon (1875-1963)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Compotier et verres

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Compotier et verres
signed 'Picasso' (upper left) and dated '14 juin 43' (upper right)
oil on canvas
23 5/8 x 28 ¾ in. (60 x 73 cm.)
Painted on 14 June 1943
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris.
José Luis and Beatriz Plaza, Caracas (acquired from the above, 1966); sale, Sotheby's, London, 8 December 1997, lot 14.
Private collection (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, London, 8 February 2011, lot 9.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1962, vol. 13, no. 56 (illustrated, pl. 28).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: Nazi Occupation, 1940-1944, San Francisco, 1999, p. 239, no. 43-170 (illustrated).
Caracas, Centro Cultural Consolidado, 5 Grandes de España: Picasso, Gris, González, Dalí, Miró, August-October 1992, p. 45, no. 3 (illustrated; titled Naturaleza muerta).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Painted on 14-15 June 1943, Picasso's Compotier et verres is a powerful still life that dates from the years of Paris' Occupation during the Second World War. Within this work are a conflicting range of emotions: on the one hand, the fruit dish and glasses depicted in rigid, almost architectural forms that comprise the scene lend this painting an atmosphere of tension yet, in the very center of it all are the jewel-like cherries, tiny celebrations, relief in the midst of adversity. The flashes of red ensure that the painting is read not only as the product of anxiety, but also of hope, which burns, like embers, in the middle of this drama. This picture, then, shows a battle between the forces of oppression and the strong glimmer of hope, and is an image of relief in stark contrast to the still life paintings of skulls dating from the same period.
Describing her first encounter with Picasso, Françoise Gilot, who within a year would become his lover, recalled a meal in the restaurant Le Catalan, in the rue des Grands-Augustins, the same street on which the artist had his studio (fig. 1). Françoise was eating with an actress and a school friend, and noticed that Picasso had been glancing in her direction during the meal: “Finally, he got up and came over to our table. He brought with him a bowl of cherries and offered some to all of us, in his strong Spanish accent, calling them cerisses, with a soft, double-s sound” (F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 14).
The result of this meeting was an invitation to Picasso's studio for the young students. However, it also serves as an interesting indication of the role of cherries in Picasso's life. These were a fruit that provided a relief, a form of luxury against the backdrop of the privations of the Second World War. Picasso painted a small group of still lifes featuring cherries, indicating the importance that this small element of gastronomic delight, this light disruption to the monotony of wartime supplies, had to the artist. It is also indicative of the quality of these paintings, which are filled with the artist's enthusiasm for the theme, that so many of these pictures are now in prominent museums, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and Houston's Menil Collection.
By this time the studio at the rue des Grands-Augustins had become a form of court for Picasso, and he entertained there on an almost daily basis. An array of well-wishers and thinkers, poets and artists would filter through. But Picasso's awareness of the War was frequently rammed home by visits from the Occupying forces. As a foreigner and a declared 'degenerate artist', he found himself walking a delicate tightrope as he continued to paint, to receive guests considered equally degenerate, and yet avoiding trouble. During the final phase of the Occupation, Françoise recalled that the Germans visited his studio several times, carrying out searches under the pretext of looking for the (Jewish) sculptor Lipchitz, whom they claimed was rumored to be hiding there although in reality it was well known that he had fled to the United States.
The constant tensions and anxieties of the war never appeared openly in Picasso's art—there was no equivalent of Guernica (postcards of which he reportedly gave to German visitors). As part of his effort to maintain a life and livelihood in Paris, he shunned overtly political painting. However, the situation shone through like an X-Ray image, defining the paintings of the period. “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 said. “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” (Picasso, in S.A. Nash, ed., Picasso and the War Years 1937-1945, exh. cat., New York, 1998, p. 13). In the strange, jutting, geometric forms that make up the various elements in Compotier et verres, this presence of the war is clear. Picasso not only vents, but also translates his angst. There is an intense sense of confinement which, while real for the artist in his rue des Grands-Augustins studio, fills this painting with a sense of oppression which remains real to the modern viewer. Describing his activity during this period, Picasso told Harriet and Sidney Janis that “There was nothing else to do but work seriously and devotedly, struggle for food, see friends quietly, and look forward to freedom” (Picasso, quoted in M. McCully, ed., A Picasso Anthology: Domuments, Criticism, Reminiscences, Princeton, 1997, p. 224).

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