Picasso painted Pipe et verre in 1918, year that the First World War ended. This was an eventful and indeed turbulent year for Picasso: he married the ballerina Olga Khokhlova in July, yet was bereaved when his great friend Guillaume Apollinaire died during the same year. In his recently-published volume of the authoritative biography of the artist, John Richardson has written about a group of still life paintings dating from this period, to which Pipe et verre appears related:
'The cubist still lifes are small and geometrically neat - a single glass or pipe or guitar - and often embellished with paper cutouts. Hard-edged as square-cut diamonds, these gems do not always have an upside or downside' (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, London, 2007, p. 77).
Certainly the edges in Pipe et verre are crisp and sharp, introducing a geometric rigour which appears to prefigure the development of Purism over the coming years. It was for this reason that Gertrude Stein, as Richardson has said, referred to some of the still life pictures from this period as 'crystal cubism' (ibid., p. 78). Some of the works from that year have a sharper, more crystalline appearance than Pipe et verre, which has a certain playful character and exuberance, yet its links to the more strictly geometric pictures such as the work of the same title in the Musée Picasso, Paris (Z III 146; PPPP 18-176) are clear in terms of both subject and style.
Picasso's versatile use of materials is likewise clear in the use of the sand in the centre of this picture, which grants a dancing visual rhythm to the subject of glass and pipe, both items speaking of plenty and of indulgence in an age of austerity. During this period, Picasso was experimenting on a range of artistic fronts, creating playful images of harlequins in part reflecting his collaboration with the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev, while also painting some works in an intensely Pointillist manner; nearly photorealist works were also entering his oeuvre, perhaps inspired by the classical beauty of Olga and heralding some of the output of the coming Rappel à l'ordre of the post-War years. All the while, he also carried on the development of the Cubist aesthetic with which he was so intrinsically linked. Indeed, his paintings of this period have been considered a bold riposte to the accusations of the other Cubists of the period that he was abandoning the style that he had pioneered; it is fitting, then, that this picture was formerly in the historic Galerie de l'Effort Moderne, owned by one of the great early advocates of the movement, Léonce Rosenberg.