Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Compotier avec fruits

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Compotier avec fruits
signed and dated 'Picasso 18' (lower right)
oil on canvas
10 5/8 x 13 ¾ in. (27 x 35 cm.)
Painted in 1918
Salon Bollag, Zürich (probably acquired from the artist, before 1932).
Anon. (acquired from the above, circa 1955); sale, Sotheby's, London, 28 November 1989, lot 64.
CBA Gallery, Tokyo.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, March 2010.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1949, vol. 3, no. 154 (illustrated, pl. 55).
Kunsthaus Zürich, Picasso, September-October 1932, p. 8, no. 100 (titled Stilleben, Früchte und Konfekt).

Lot Essay

Pursuing a method that cannot be traced to any precedent in his earlier career, Picasso during the years immediately following the First World War traveled two distinct stylistic avenues in his work—cubism and classicism, the antipodes of pictorial representation as they existed in modern painting at that time. For figure subjects, he most often worked in a naturalistic manner, having studied models from antiquity, the masterworks of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, and the classicism of Ingres. Meanwhile, he continued to explore, mainly in his practice of still-life painting, the seemingly unbounded formal possibilities of late synthetic cubism. “Picasso’s thirst for new creative adventures was a principal motivation,” Elizabeth Cowling has stated. “He was particularly prone to favor the unpredictability of frequent change” (Picasso: Style and Meaning, London, 2002, p. 392).
With its exquisitely wrought and infinitely delicate illusion, Compotier avec fruits is a rare instance of a still-life that Picasso rendered during this period in a classicizing rather than cubist manner—as an assemblage of corporeal things, supremely restrained yet subtly sensual, rather than a panoply of abstract signs. The tabletop provides a stable, continuous support and the rear wall a neutral foil for the rounded, tactile forms of the fruit and tea cookies, each tilted its own way; the elegant compotier, viewed slightly from above, creates a sequence of concentric circles that enclose and unify the diverse contents. “Nothing reveals more forcefully Picasso’s desire to achieve the spare, dignified monumentality of great classical art,” Cowling has written about a related still-life in the Musée Picasso, and the same may well be said of the present canvas (On Classic Ground, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1990, p. 209).
Picasso’s proclivity for classicism, which had gained strength since his voyage to Italy in 1917, helped instigate a new trend in pictorial thinking in the wake of the Great War, an ethos of renewal linked to a heightened awareness of tradition. His friend Jean Cocteau formulated this message as le rappel à l’ordre (the “return to order”), a humanistic cultural imperative that he urged all artists to heed as a means of healing the wounds that four years of carnage had inflicted on the national body and soul. L’ordre to which they aspired was the classical ideal steeped in a love of country, in the grand Gallic tradition of the arts.
In the present painting, Picasso has looked for inspiration to Chardin, to Roman frescoes from Pompeii and Herculaneum, and most notably to Cézanne. The Provençal painter, of course, had been the great ancestor-figure in the development of cubism. Before the war, the cubists had not aspired to his aesthetic per se but rather had extended what they saw as the central impulses in his vision. Here, by contrast, Picasso has created a veritable homage to Cézanne, transforming him from a radical role model into a new “old master” in keeping with the spirit of the rappel à l’ordre. The tipped-up dish and gingerly balanced fruits are both signature Cézanne; each object in the compotier is a singular piece of painting, with its own Cézannesque nuances of color and transitions of light and shade. We are reminded most strongly of the exquisite Pomme that Picasso painted as a Christmas gift for Gertrude Stein in 1914 (Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller; to be sold, Christie’s New York, 8 May 2018, Lot 1).
Picasso’s pursuit of an openly bifurcated studio production in the wake of the war was extremely controversial. Partisans of each manner tried to discredit Picasso’s efforts in the other. The new classicists decried cubism as a tired hold-over from the pre-war era, while outraged veteran cubists argued that in his classical works Picasso had betrayed the progressive mission of the avant-garde. The contrasting notions of classical and cubist were to Picasso’s mind, however, dual sides of the same coin—the totality of Western art in its most provocative, modern form, capable of generating a potent dialectic from which new, transformative ideas might issue forth.
“We all know that Art is not truth,” he insisted. “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies” (D. Ashton, ed. Picasso on Art, New York, 1972, p. 4). Observers held there to be an irreconcilable contradiction between the representation of a subject by means of naturalist illusion on one hand, and the inventions of form arising from cubism on the other. Picasso, though, declared both conceptions equally a “lie”—for such was the condition of all art. “They speak of naturalism in opposition to modern painting. I would like to know if anyone has ever seen a natural work of art. Nature and art, being two different things, cannot be the same thing. Through art we express our conception of what nature is not” (ibid., p. 4).
If the concepts of classicism and cubism each had something to offer the modern artist, Picasso reckoned, there was then no good reason not to practice them side-by-side, in parallel strands or even on the same canvas. “I do not believe I have used radically different elements in the different manners I have used in painting,” he explained. “If the subjects I have wanted to express have suggested different ways of expression, I have never hesitated to adopt them. Whenever I have something to say, I have said it in the manner in which I have felt it ought to be said” (ibid., p. 5).
The first recorded owner of Compotier de fruits was the gallerist Gustav Bollag, who ran the successful Salon Bollag in Zürich with his brother Léon. Although the dealers specialized in Swiss art, their sister Lucy was friendly with Berthe Weill, who facilitated introductions for them in Paris; the Bollags bought work directly from Picasso as early as 1917 and were instrumental in exposing Swiss audiences to new directions in modern French painting. In autumn 1932, Bollag loaned the present canvas to the Zürich Kunsthaus for Picasso’s first major museum exhibition, which drew heavily on that summer’s retrospective at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris; Picasso, Olga, and Paulo drove to Zürich in their Hispano-Suiza to view the show.

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