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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property of a Private New York Collector
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

L’Huilier

Details
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
L’Huilier
signed and dated ‘Picasso J 1911’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
9 ½ x 7 ½ in. (24.1 x 19.2 cm.)
Painted in winter 1910-1911
Provenance
Galerie Simon (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris; sale, Hôtel Drouot, 17-18 November 1921, lot 177.
Antoine Villard, Paris (acquired at the above sale and until at least 1942).
Jacques Gelman, Mexico (by 1963).
E.V. Thaw & Co., New York (circa 1964).
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner, circa 1970.
Literature
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1942, vol. 2, no. 249 (illustrated, pl. 124; dated spring 1911).
P. Daix and J. Rosselet, Picasso: The Cubist Years, 1907-1916, London, 1979, p. 260, no. 370 (illustrated).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: Cubism, 1907-1917, Barcelona, 1996, p. 505, no. 563 (illustrated, p. 203; dated January 1911).
Exhibited
Munich, Modern Gallery (Heinrich Thannhauser), Pablo Picasso, February 1913, no. 59 (dated 1911).
Vienna, Galerie Miethke, Pablo Picasso, February-March 1914, no. 28 (titled Ölbehälter).
Paris, Galeries Georges Petit, Picasso, June-July 1932, p. 29, no. 70.
Kunsthaus Zürich, Picasso: Retrospective, 1901-1932, September-October 1932, p. 5, no. 61 (titled Essig und Ölgestell; dated 1911 and with inverted dimensions).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Cubism: 1910-1912, January-February 1956, no. 29 (dated 1911).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Selection of Twentieth-Century Paintings: 1905-1955, November-December 1956, no. 24.
New York, Leonard Hutton Galleries, Der Blaue Reiter, February-March 1963, no. 59 (dated 1911).
Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art; Kyoto; National Museum of Modern Art and Nagoya, Prefectural Museum of Art, Pablo Picasso: Retrospective, 1898-1970, May-August 1964, p. 137, no. 18 (illustrated, p. 39).
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Lot Essay

Picasso completed L’Huilier early in 1911, at the very moment during the fraught, heroic journey of analytical cubism—the radically new pictorial language by which he and Braque dismantled every existing tradition of representation—that he came closest to pure abstraction. Beginning the previous spring and gaining intensity during the summer at Cadaqués, Picasso’s cubism had become increasingly, daringly non-naturalistic. The diagonal latticework of 1909 gave way to an armature of overlapping, rectilinear planes, shaded from light to dark, that conjure up both figure and ground in an ambiguous, ever-shifting relationship, eliminating the last trace of projective space. Objects are no longer discrete, sculptural masses but now open volumes instead, their facets pried apart and rearranged into discontinuous, dematerialized bricks. “A gradual but inexorable shedding of the illusion of three-dimensionality, solidity, and fixed identity occurred,” Elizabeth Cowling notes, “as he pressed on with his investigation of the limits and potential of the ‘analytical’ style” (Picasso: Style and Meaning, London, 2002, p. 213).
This process reached its apogee following Picasso’s return to Paris in autumn 1910, although the artist himself took no immediate satisfaction in this feat. “Shattering the closed form was associated with many great hesitations, difficulties, and probably great loneliness,” Pierre Daix has written. “Once he had accepted discontinuity, Picasso was able to venture into unknown territory that continually lured him on and yet seemed to give way under him at the slightest false step” (op. cit., 1979, p. 82). By mid-1911, a certain “thawing out” would be underway, with greater figurative coherence, new trompe l’oeil surprises, and eventually stenciled letters once again increasing the legibility of Picasso’s work. In the early months of the year, by contrast, “there is an incipient abstraction, which may have first emerged in Cadaqués during Picasso’s exploration process, but it is now that we see it unfold in all its magnificence” (J. Palau i Fabre, op. cit., 1985, p. 199).
In the present painting, Picasso’s starting point was a cruet set—oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper—like those still seen in Parisian cafés; a preparatory ink study for the composition is housed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The two-tiered cruet is positioned at a slightly oblique angle, creating a rhythm from left to right and avoiding the rigidity of the more purely rectilinear compositions. Its four molded, knob-like feet orient the viewer in space, acting as recognizable signposts that prevent the painting from losing all contact with visual reality. Yet no sooner does a tangible fragment seem to emerge from the abstract structure than it is absorbed back into the mysterious, elusive whole. “This coming in and out of focus,” Cowling has written, “lends the objects an hallucinatory, mirage-like aspect, leading one to question one’s momentary impressions, to think of alternative interpretations, to wonder whether other spectators will see what one believes one has seen” (op. cit., 2002, p. 225).

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