PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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Property from an Esteemed Private American Collection
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Bougie et masque

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Bougie et masque
signed ‘Picasso’ (upper left); dated ’18.11.43.’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
13 x 21 3/4 in. (33 x 55.2 cm.)
Painted on 18 November 1943
Galerie Louis Carré et Cie., Paris.
Galerie Berggruen et Cie., Paris.
Comtessa de Monbrison, Paris.
Harold Diamond, New York.
Private collection, Teterboro, New Jersey (acquired from the above, 24 May 1968).
By descent from the above to the present owner.
A.H. Barr Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art, New York, 1946, p. 274 (illustrated; dated 1945).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1962, vol. 13, no. 168 (illustrated, pl. 88; with inverted dimensions).
D. Cooper, Picasso, théâtre, Paris, 1968, pp. 284 and 358, no. 390 (illustrated, p. 284; with inverted dimensions).
The San Diego Museum of Art (on extended loan, 1979-1981).

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

During the Second World War, still life subjects occupied a central position within Pablo Picasso’s paintings, offering a glimpse into the Spartan conditions under which he lived and worked throughout the German Occupation of Paris. At the outbreak of the conflict, the artist had chosen to remain in France, refusing offers of sanctuary from friends and supporters in the United States and Mexico. Living and working largely in isolation in his studio at 7 rue des Grands-Augustins, Picasso’s artistic vision turned inwards, away from the overtly political tone of the paintings he had previously created during the Spanish Civil War. As he later explained, it seemed “there was nothing else to do but work seriously and devotedly, struggle for food, see friends quietly, and look forward to freedom” (quoted in H. and S. Janis, Picasso: The Recent Years, 1939–1946, New York, 1946, p. 4).
Focusing on the ordinary objects that graced his studio, the people closest to him, and the comings and goings of his daily experiences in Paris, Picasso’s paintings, drawings and sculptures through the early 1940s chronicle the everyday stoicism and small feats of endurance that marked the lives of the citizens of France during these years. In many ways, Picasso’s still lifes chart both the deprivations and unexpected moments of simple joy that occurred in war-time Paris. As restrictions and rationing hit food and electricity supplies across the city, humble foods such as sausages and leeks appear alongside animal carcasses, while the dim glow of candles punctuate the darkness and cast their light on the quotidian objects assembled before the artist. Coffee pots, small bowls of rare treats such as fresh cherries and lemons, or brightly colored blooms make sporadic appearances, their presence suggesting the sudden availability of longed for items on the black market perhaps, or in the small gardens that dotted the neighborhood around Picasso’s studio.
In Bougie et masque, Picasso trains his eye on a simple tableau. A domino mask sits atop a small table while the modest light of a candle illuminates the space, its flame a stylized, linear spark that bursts to life like a star. Painted on Thursday, 18 November 1943, this intimate, domestic scene may have been captured in the apartment of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter and their daughter, Maya, whom he visited on Thursdays and Saturdays each week. Though the candle was a regular feature in Picasso’s compositions of these years, a simple necessity during the Occupation when blackouts were frequent, it also invokes a certain symbolic significance, offering a vivid source of life in an otherwise dark scene. The mask, meanwhile, was a more unusual object among Picasso’s repertoire, and does not appear in any of the other still lifes from this period. Conjuring an atmosphere of mystery and theatricality, it perhaps highlights the small ways in which the denizens of Paris distracted themselves during the long winter evenings of the war. For Picasso, writing and the theatre provided an important secondary outlet for his own creativity during the early years of the conflict—in 1941, he composed a surreal six-act play titled Le désir attrapé par la queue, in which the characters were often plagued by similar issues to the artist’s own circumstances during the war, and complained about their hunger and the cold.
It was perhaps this sense of dramatic flair that led Bougie et masque to provide the inspiration for another of the artist’s projects: in May 1945, Picasso was approached by the photographer Brassaï and the writer Boris Kochno, and invited to collaborate on a new ballet they were developing called Le Rendezvous. Based upon a synopsis by Jacques Prévert, with music by Pierre Kosma and choreography by Roland Petit, the ballet presented love as an inescapable encounter with destiny. Picasso had a long and storied involvement with the world of ballet, creating stage designs and costumes for several productions by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in the late teens and the 1920s, from Parade in 1917 to El Sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) in 1919, and Mercure in 1924. Though intrigued by Le Rendezvous, Picasso was reluctant to disrupt the flow of his paintings and create a special design for the production’s stage curtain. Instead, he suggested that Kochno take a look through his most recent work, and choose a composition that the director felt reflected the spirit of the ballet. “There are some with candlesticks, death’s heads, mirrors. That expresses the idea of destiny very well,” Picasso explained (quoted in Brassaï, Conversations with Picasso, Chicago, 1999, pp. 232-235). Kochno selected Bougie et masque from among the vast array of paintings in the artist’s studio, and Picasso diligently oversaw the composition’s translation into the large piece of stage décor.

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