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

Le déjeuner de l'ouvrier (Quart de brie)

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Le déjeuner de l'ouvrier (Quart de brie)
signed and dated 'Picasso 1923' (upper right); dated '30.11.23' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
9½ x 13 in. (24.2 x 33 cm.)
Painted on 30 November 1923
Paul Rosenberg, Paris, by whom acquired from the artist (who gave it the title Le Déjeuner de l'ouvrier).
Jacques Helft, Paris.
M. Helft, Paris.
Waddington Galleries, London.
Stanley J. Seeger: sale, Sotheby's, New York, 4 November 1993, lot 438. Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso: Oeuvres de 1923 à 1925, vol. V, Paris, 1952, no. 92 (illustrated p. 49; titled Quart de Brie).
M. McCully, Picasso: A Private Collection, London, 1993, no. 45 (illustrated in colour p. 126).
The Picasso Project (ed)., Picasso's, Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings, and Sculpture: Neoclassicism II 1922-1924, San Francisco, 1996, no. 23-075 (illustrated p. 137).
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Lot Essay

There is an honest simplicity to Picasso's Le déjeuner de l'ouvrier, painted in 1923. The humble components of the worker's casse-croûte are assembled before the viewer with the open penknife to cut the bread and camembert. The restraint of the artist in portraying these few, simple elements itself mirrors the frugality of the meal itself. Yet this is a sensuous feast: the cheese, mouthwateringly rendered in terms both of colour and of the deftly articulated surface of the crust, is almost tangible, perfectly conjuring up the texture, and almost the taste, of camembert. Meanwhile, this extremely realistic and evocative portrayal is in contrast to the glass, which has been painted in a synthetic Cubist style. The bread is reminiscent of Picasso's early proto-Cubist still life paintings, in which the artist pushed his Cézannisme towards his breakthrough. Yet overall, there is a hint of the Purism that breathed so refreshingly through Picasso's still life paintings of the early 1920s.

This deliberate mixture of styles shows the artist enjoying himself. He is letting himself go, allowing the domestic subject of the worker's lunch to serve as a forum to revisit old styles while exploring new. This intimate subject, presented on an intimate scale, is in marked contrast to the Neo-Classical works that Picasso was painting during this period. Indeed, Le déjeuner de l'ouvier is filled with such simple, exuberant relish that it is tempting to believe that painting this picture was a rare opportunity for release for the artist, where he could paint outwith the constraints of the Rappel à l'ordre. Even the humble subject matter appears in stark but glorious contrast to the full-blown mythological motifs in his contemporary works.

After passing through the hands of Paul Rosenberg, one of Picasso's most important dealers, Le déjeuner de l'ouvrier was owned by Rosenberg's brother-in-law, Jacques Helft. Helft was a highly respected collector as well as a dealer, and was in particular an expert in silver, of which he had one of the world's most important collections. He also published extensively on that subject. Le déjeuner de l'ouvrier eventually came to form a part of Stanley Seeger's celebrated collection of Picasso's works. This meticulous array of works from throughout the artist's career prompted John Richardson to praise it as 'an exercise in scholarship as well as connoisseurship' in the 1993 catalogue of the sale.


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