Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
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Property from the Springfield Museums, Sold to Support Art Acquisitions and Collections Care
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

La Poule

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
La Poule
signed ‘Picasso’ (upper right); dated '15.1.50.' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
31 7/8 x 39 ½ in. (81 x 100.4 cm.)
Painted on 15 January 1950.
Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris.
Paul Kantor Gallery, Beverly Hills.
Robert J. Freedman, New York and Springfield.
Bequest from the above to the present owner, January 1973.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1965, vol. 15, no. 152 (illustrated, pl. 92).
Catalog of the Robert J. Freedman Collection, New York, 1973, p. 40 (illustrated, p. 41; with incorrect support).
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Picasso, September-November 1953, p. 68, no. 144 (illustrated).
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Grosse Kunstausstellung: Galerie Charpentier zeigt 'École de Paris‘, June-October 1956, p. 42, no. 72 (illustrated, p. 53).
Further details
The Springfield Museums, located in the heart of the downtown, is the largest cultural attraction in western Massachusetts. The five museums – the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Springfield Science Museum, the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, and the newly opened (2017) Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum offer over half a million annual visitors an extensive variety of exhibitions and innovative programs in art, history and science throughout the year.
The Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, established in 1933 and housed in an Art Deco style building, displays American and European paintings, prints, watercolors and sculpture and representative examples of drawing, furniture, metalwork, textiles, glass and ceramics. The Museum also houses a comprehensive collection of Japanese ukiyo-e prints and one of largest holdings of Currier and Ives lithographs in the country. The result of a lengthy process of evaluation and refinement of the permanent collection, proceeds realized from the sale will be used to advance the Museums’ commitment to equity, diversity, and access through future art acquisitions of works by women artists, artists of color and under-represented artists.
Sale room notice
Please note the updated details for this work which can be accessed online:
signed ‘Picasso’ (upper right); dated '15.1.50.' (on the reverse)

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Lot Essay

According to the photographer Brassaï, Pablo Picasso, “always wanted a [pet] cockerel...somewhere near him” (Picasso and Company, New York, 1966, p. 196). Throughout his career, Picasso was captivated by this barnyard animal, and, like the horse or the bull—both of which are central symbols in the artist’s oeuvre—the rooster became a recurrent subject in his art. Filled with connotations of masculinity, virility, and the embodiment of a swaggering self-confidence, the cockerel is endowed with a broad range of iconographic associations, from the herald of dawn to a national symbol of France, many of which Picasso explored in his depictions of this bird.
The proudly strutting chicken that appears in La Poule of 1950 would have likely been a frequent sight in rural Vallauris, the Provençal village where Picasso was living at the time that he painted this work. Together with his lover, Françoise Gilot, and their young children, Claude and Paloma, Picasso had moved into a small, ramshackle pink-walled villa perched upon a hillside outside this hamlet in 1948. Flanked by olive groves, La Galloise, as it was known, was hard to find and lacked the ostentation or beauty of Picasso’s subsequent homes. Yet, here Picasso existed within a contented domestic idyll. He was surrounded by his children, situated near the Madoura pottery studio, where he had been working intensively since the summer of 1947, and was happily immersed in his own sprawling studio, Le Fournas, which was set in a former perfume factory,
La Poule is one of a veritable menagerie of animals that Picasso painted and sculpted at this time. It was in Vallauris that the artist became occupied by sculpture, creating both small-scale modeled works and large, iconic assemblages of objets trouvés, including La Chèvre, La Guenon et son petit and La Grue (Spies, nos. 409, 463 and 461). He spent hours scavenging in the fields for discarded material to use in his sculpture, filling his studio with these found objects: “He searched the dump daily and before he even got there, he rummaged around in any rubbish barrels we passed on our walk to the studio,” Gilot recalled. “I walked along with him, pushing an old baby carriage into which he threw whatever likely looking pieces of junk he found along the way” (Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, pp. 317 and 318).
In two of his most important sculptures of the year, La Chèvre and Petite fille sautant à la corde (Spies, nos. 408), Picasso used a wicker basket to serve as the torso of the pregnant goat and the young girl. He clearly relished this compelling visual stand in, featuring it in an oil, Coq et panier dosier, that is closely related to the present La Poule (Zervos, vol. 15, no. 154). Here, Picasso included a worn-out, unravelling basket next to the rooster, mimicking its woven construction in the depiction of the accompanying bird. Regarded in this context, the strikingly rendered body and the brilliant plumage of La Poule share this visual language, demonstrating how Picasso worked compulsively across mediums to more fully explore the ideas and motifs that fascinated him.
La Poule is one of only a few oil paintings that Picasso completed in 1950. What unites many of these works is their shared pictorial construction and near monochrome palette. He painted a wide range of subjects—from the chicken of the present work, to his children, as well as his own takes on the work of Courbet and El Greco—with a restricted palette of black, white, and earthy tones of brown and olive, allowing him to isolate and explore qualities of form. Picasso’s preferred method of working late into the night perhaps inspired these bold formal arrangements; the bright, artificial white light with which he illuminated the nocturnal studio heightening the contrasting tonal effect seen in Poule as well as other compositions. “The light I have at night is magnificent,” the artist explained to Brassaï. “I even prefer it to natural light. A light that sets off every object, dark shadows making a ring around the canvases and projected onto the beams: you find them in most of my still-lifes, almost all of them painted at night. Whatever the atmosphere, it becomes our own substance, it rubs off on us, arranges itself to fit our nature” (quoted in Picasso Black and White, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2012, p. 26).
La Poule takes its place in the long line of roosters in Picasso’s oeuvre, many of which have a rich iconographic significance. In 1921, the artist used a cubist cockerel as the centerpiece of a monumental still life in the tradition of Chardin’s Buffet (Zervos, vol. 4, no. 335). Years later, in 1938, as the Spanish Civil War raged and the lead-up to the Second World War intensified, Picasso depicted a rooster shrieking with fright, its gaping beak and sharp, protruding tongue recalling the anguished figures of the earlier Guernica and the Femmes qui pleurent (Zervos, vol. 9, nos. 110-114). At around the same time, this bird appeared in the deeply sinister Femme au coq (Zervos, vol. 9, no. 109), in which a woman is preparing to kill the rooster placed upon her lap. With its implications of death, the painting continues the themes of slaughter and evil that he had so emotively captured in Guernica the year prior. This sense of foreboding violence reappeared after the war, in 1947, when Picasso again portrayed the rooster as a sacrificial victim, trussed for slaughter upon a kitchen table, the ritual knife and bowl at the ready (Zervos, vol. 15, nos. 41-42).
At the same time, the Gallic cock was a national symbol of France, and so also came to serve as a powerful symbol of defiance and resistance in Picasso’s work. Soon after the Liberation, Picasso chose to include his 1932 sculpture, Coq (Spies, no. 134) at the so-called Salon de la Libération in October 1944. This proudly preening cockerel stood at the very center of the Picasso gallery, an emblem of national pride and the resurgent Republic. “After the Spanish bull appears the French rooster, always a symbol of vigor, of virile power, and bold action,” declared the newspaper Fraternité (quoted in G. Utley, Picasso: The Communist Years, New Haven, 2000, p. 61). A month later, he painted another swaggering rooster crowing to announce the dawn of a new day, awash in golden sun (Zervos, vol. 14, no. 40). La Poule was included in an important exhibition held in 1953 at the Palazzo Reale, Milan. This large retrospective featured both Guernica and Massacre en Corée of 1951, two of the Picasso’s greatest and most direct political statements, making this show an important display of his post-war artistic identity.

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