By the time that Picasso painted this bold and light-filled still-life of a glass, lemon and pitcher on 21 July 1944, the Allied armies had crushed the German forces in Normandy and were heading toward Paris. News had just come from Germany that a dissident group of Hitler's officers had tried to assassinate their Führer on 20 July. Although Hitler was only wounded in the attempt, and reprisals quickly commenced, it was clear that the days of the German Occupation were now numbered, and it seemed that the war itself might be over by the end of the year. Liberation did indeed come to the people of Paris a month later, when the Allies, with Free French forces in the vanguard, entered the capital on 25 August.
Before then, however, a long, hard winter's night had descended over Paris during the four years of the Occupation, a bleak and benumbed existence that Picasso translated into the mostly austere and solemn domestic compositions he painted during that time. Nascent and tenuous feelings of hope had already begun to infuse a new series of still-lifes that Picasso completed in the spring of 1944 (see lot 57). Now, three months later, an even greater sense of optimism is detectable; the glass and pitcher in this canvas have largely divested themselves of the portentous symbolism with which Picasso had previously weighted the still-life elements in his compositions. These paintings now came to possess a delightful simplicity, in which the objects appear to express a quiet and plainly stated joy in the fact of their mere existence, in a time when such survivability was not to be taken for granted. There is even a bit of humor in their appearance; note the eye-like shapes used to describe the rims of both of these vessels. As if everyday dining-table objects had suddenly come to life, defying the very definition of the term nature morte, the glass and pitcher here stand together like two creatures tentatively regarding each other, but ready to co-exist and get on with their lives.
Picasso painted Verre et pichet as one of a series of still-lifes with a glass, pitcher and lemon that he commenced on 19 July. He continued working on them through the 26th, painting thirteen canvases in all (Zervos, vol. 13, nos. 278, 315 and 314; vol. 14, nos. 2-9). Several more related works followed, and then on 3 August Picasso embarked on the celebrated Plant de tomate series (Zervos, vol. 14, nos. 21-29; fig. 1). During this time Picasso, who lived in his studio and residence on the rue des Grands-Augustins, frequently visited his former mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter and their daughter Maya, in an apartment he had provided for them on the boulevard Henri-IV, a walk over the Seine to the Left Bank and across town. He stayed with them, protectively, during the violent days in August which immediately preceded the Liberation. The three components of the present still-life might actually represent the members of this informal but still closely-bonded family unit, with Picasso and Marie-Thérèse as the pitcher and glass, and between them, in the shape of the lemon, the child Maya, glowing in the sunny and radiant color of hope.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Plant de tomate, 12 August 1944. Sold, Christie's New York, 2 November 2006, lot 7. Copyright 2007 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York BARCODE 24930451_001