Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Pablo Picasso had an insatiable appetite for the genre of still-life. Throughout his career he explored it with an endless passion, portraying the world around him with his own distinctive vision. As an artist for whom painting was often a form of biography, the objects that he chose to depict in these works were never wholly arbitrary, but were frequently imbued with a deeper meaning – symbolic, biographical or anecdotal. Les gâteaux of 1937 is one such painting.
Depicting a platter filled with sumptuous patisseries, Les gâteaux appears at first glance to be a playful, decorative and whimsical canvas, filled with bright colours and painterly flourishes that match the flamboyance of these extravagant cakes. Looking more closely, however, the date that Picasso has inscribed along the upper left hand side of the painting – 19 June 1937 – infuses this small, jewel-like canvas with a deeper level of meaning. At the time that he painted Les gâteaux, Picasso had just finished what has become known as his magnum opus: Guernica (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid). Completed in a matter of weeks in response to the violence and terror unleashed on the people of his homeland Spain, at the beginning of June this monumental work had been installed in the entrance of the Spanish pavilion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Soon after this Picasso developed a motif that had obsessed him for the previous months: the weeping woman. Throughout the month of June he returned again and again to this sorrowful woman. On 19 June, the day that he painted Les gâteaux, Picasso executed one such work, La femme qui pleure (now in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid) as well as an ink drawing of the same subject.
In contrast to the pained expression of suffering that La femme qui pleure embodies, Les gâteaux could be seen as both a joyful escapist fantasy – a painting of bounteous plenty that represents a momentary respite from the ever-mounting angst, violence and horror of war – or alternatively, as a work of jarring ironic juxtaposition: the suffering endured by Spain’s people cruelly contrasted with the luxuriant frivolity of this plate of flamboyant French patisseries. This painting remained one of the artist’s treasured works, and stayed in his collection for the rest of his life. When in 1961 the photographer David Douglas Duncan published a revelatory book that brought to light many never before seen works kept privately in Picasso’s collection, he wrote movingly of Les gâteaux: ‘When Picasso painted Guernica… he filled three hundred square feet of canvas with lightning bolts and thunder saying all he knew about dying, and more than anyone had ever said about war. Yet no one can live on just anger, or survive without a dream, so he turned to his own plain table and to the girl sitting serenely beside him, to paint offerings of food as though upon an altar – and a goddess of mercy for others wounded along the way’ (D.D. Duncan, Picasso’s Picassos, New York, 1961, p. 124).