PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
2 More
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Nature morte à la bougie

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Nature morte à la bougie
signed 'Picasso' (lower left) and dated '4 avl 44' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
24 5⁄8 x 36 1⁄8 in. (63.2 x 91.7 cm.)
Painted on 4 April 1944
Bignou Gallery, New York, by 1948.
Ambassador Hugo Gouthier de Oliveira Gondim, Brazil, by 1956.
Private collection, Sweden.
Private collection, Europe, acquired from the above in the early 1990s, and thence by descent; sale, Sotheby's London, 22 June 2010, lot 44.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1943 et 1944, vol. 13, Paris, 1962, no. 254 (illustrated pl. 126).
M. Vescovo & B. Hedel-Samson ed., Fernand Léger: L'oggetto e il suo contesto, 1920-1940, exh cat., Fondazione Palazzo Bricherasio, Turin, 1996, no. 55, pp. 145 & 156 - 157 (illustrated p. 145).
New York, Bignou Gallery, 19 and 20th Century French Paintings, March 1948.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Painted on 4 April 1944, Nature morte à la bougie is one of a series of still lifes that presents a small selection of quotidian objects set upon a tabletop in Pablo Picasso’s rue des Grands-Augustins studio in Paris. A candlestick, coffee pot, and accompanying cup stand, flanked by an ornate mirror and chair. One of two large still lifes he painted on this day, the present work shows Picasso’s exploration into the effects of candlelight over the scene. Though the candle is extinguished, the scene is filled with light, the cafetière casting a dramatic shadow through the composition.

The still life dominated Picasso’s wartime work. Though he had been deemed a ‘degenerate’ artist by the Nazis, Picasso had nevertheless chosen to remain in occupied Paris. He retreated to his studio during this time, entertaining friends and visitors there, and withdrawing from the café culture that had characterised his life in the years prior.

Due to his isolation, Picasso turned to his immediate surroundings as his pictorial subjects, which resulted in the proliferation of still-life paintings. Françoise Gilot’s memory of one of her first visits to Picasso’s studio in May 1943 describes the artist’s production at this time: ‘[Picasso] piled [his paintings] up almost like scaffolding. There was a painting on the easel; he stuck another on top of that; one on each side; piled others on top of those… That morning there were cocks; a buffet of Le Catalan with cherries against a background of brown, and white; small still lifes, some with lemon and many with glasses, a cup, and a coffeepot, or with fruit against a checked tablecloth’ (Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 20).

While Picasso's wartime production largely avoided direct references to the war, he skillfully invoked the harsh realities of life in the shadow of conflict through his powerful representation in still life. Often painted at night, with electric light, many of these works have a dark, reduced palette, heightening the sombre impression they convey. ‘Above all’, Frances Morris has written, ‘it was the still-life genre that Picasso developed into a tool capable of evoking the most complex blend of pathos and defiance, of despair to hope, balancing personal and universal experience in an expression of extraordinary emotional power. The hardship of daily life, the fragility of human existence and the threat of death are themes that haunt Picasso’s still-life paintings of the war and Liberation periods’ (Paris Post War, Art and Existentialism 1945-1955, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 1993, p. 155).

Using a small repertoire of objects – cups, pots, skulls or food – Picasso invested these quotidian scenes with symbolic and sometimes allegorical meanings. In the present work, the coffee pot conveys a luxury in wartime Paris: coffee was a precious commodity and hard to come by. The candlestick is another key symbol. On the pendant still life painted the same day (Zervos, vol. 13, no. 255, Private collection), the candle is lit, illuminating the rest of the shadowy scene. Jean Sutherland Boggs has described both of these still lifes, writing, ‘When he returned to the idea [of the still life] on 4 April, Picasso was obviously more aware of the candle as a symbol, either snuffed out…presumably as a reminder of the shortness of life, or as the source of light in his apartment since electricity was so uncertain during the war. That the light was something more than practical is apparent in the enthusiasm with which he executed the flame and the pattern of light it shed. It was somewhat florid, like the straight-back chair with curlicues, which he put beside the table in each of the stages of the painting or the suggestion of ornament in the frame of the mirror above. The presence of the mirror, although hardly emphasised, does suggest Picasso could have been thinking of a traditional vanitas theme’ (Picasso and Things, exh. cat., The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992, p. 284).

More from 20th / 21st Century: London Evening Sale

View All
View All