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The artist's estate.
Marina Picasso, Paris, by descent from the above.
Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva.
James Kirkman, London.
Private collection, London, by whom acquired from the above in 1983; sale, Christie's, New York, 10 May 1994, lot 72.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Ruiz Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
FROM MORNING TO NIGHT:
TWO STILL-LIFES BY PABLO PICASSO
29 DECEMBER 1946
1946: a year of peace, happiness and new love in the life of Pablo Picasso. The bleak years of war were over. His young lover, Françoise Gilot, had, after much persuasion, agreed to move in to the artist’s home on the rue des Grands Augustins in Paris, and together they spent a blissful summer on the Côte d’Azur; a place the artist adored but had been unable to visit for the duration of the war. Happily ensconced in a peaceful, idyllic Mediterranean life, Picasso once more fell under the spell of classical mythology: fauns and nymphs paraded into his work, much of which he created especially for the Musée d’Antibes. It was also on the beach at Golfe-Juan that the artist met Georges and Suzanne Ramié, the couple that owned the Madoura pottery studio and introduced him to the idea of creating ceramics. By the time that the couple were back in Paris in November of this year, Françoise was three months pregnant with her first child, Claude, who was born in May 1947. In many ways, 1946 marked the beginning of a new chapter in the artist’s life. A new wave of creativity burst forth as he experimented with new media and styles, and a heady sense of joie de vivre filled his art.
The following two lots, Nature morte and Nature morte aux volets verts, were painted at the very end of this highly productive, rejuvenating year. Painted on the same day, in Paris, on 29th December 1946, these two large still-life paintings depict much the same scene by day, and by night. Framed by bright green shutters, a vase of three single flowers appears against a radiant white and black background in Nature morte. Nature morte aux volets verts depicts a near-identical view: the same vase of flowers sits on a table bedecked in a blue and white checked tablecloth, though in this nocturnal version, it is accompanied by a teapot and a cup. Simplified to an interlocking arrangement of geometric lines, forms and flattened planes of colour, these paintings demonstrate Picasso’s supreme mastery and handling of form. With a deft economy of means, the artist has conjured two contrasting, yet highly abstracted scenes of quotidian life, providing a glimpse into the world of Picasso.
The still-life was a genre that Picasso explored with an endless passion throughout his career. Indeed, the artist’s biographer, John Richardson, has gone so far as to say that it was a theme that Picasso, ‘would eventually explore more exhaustively and develop more imaginatively than any other artist in history’ (J. Richardson, quoted in J. Sutherland Boggs, Picasso & Things, exh. cat., Cleveland, Philadelphia & Paris, 1992, p. 13). From the very beginning of his career, this genre played a vital role in the artist’s work. The still-life was absolutely central to Cubism, one of the most innovative movements of the Twentieth Century. Picasso completely reconfigured the genre as he deconstructed the nature of representation. These radical artistic aims led to the intense focus on inanimate, inexpressive objects. As the 1920s dawned, the artist was effortlessly switching between Neo-Classicism and Synthetic Cubism, creating works composed of rhythmically interlocking planes and facets that reveal the artist’s innate ability at composing and constructing images using still-life objects. By the 1930s, Picasso’s still-lifes, like so much of his work, became steeped in autobiography. Biomorphic, exuberant and boldly coloured, these paintings took on a potent erotic symbolism, with each curve and line evoking the sensuous, voluptuous form of his youthful, golden-haired muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter.
In sharp, startling contrast to these sensual visions of plenty, Picasso’s wartime still-lifes are some of the most powerful, intense and austere of the artist’s career. ‘I have not painted the war’, the artist maintained, ‘But I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done’ (Picasso, quoted in S.A. Nash, ed., Picasso and the War Years 1937-1945, exh. cat., San Francisco & New York, 1999, p. 13). Unable to travel, and more or less confined to his studio, Picasso produced a great number of still-lifes throughout the war. Darkness pervades as these paintings resonate with a sombre restraint and haunting power. Depicting an assortment of foods, quotidian objects, candles or skulls set within the artist’s studio on the rue des Grands Augustins, these works express the angst, tensions and privations of life in a city under enemy rule.
Gradually, following the end of the war in 1945, a renewed sense of optimism infiltrated Picasso’s work, and, by the summer of 1946, light, colour, and an undeniable joie de vivre flooded his paintings once more. Nature morte and Nature morte aux volets verts encapsulate this post-war sentiment. Painted shortly after Picasso and Françoise had returned from their idyllic sojourn in the south of France, these paintings reflect the artist’s everyday existence in Paris. The bunch of blossoming flowers – a motif almost completely absent in works from the war years – appears as a jubilant symbol of new life. They radiate from the darkness in Nature morte aux volets verts, like a beacon of light and hope against the dark night sky.
Immediately noticeable in Picasso’s work of 1946, and particularly Nature morte and Nature morte aux volets verts, is the pared back, simplified and almost abstract style that the artist has used. This was, as he said to the English poet, John Pudney, a reflection of post-war sentiment: ‘A more disciplined art, a less out-of-control freedom, this is the defence and the concern of the artist in times like ours’ (Picasso, quoted in B. Léal, C. Piot & M.L. Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2003 p. 359). Increasingly, Picasso focused on form, geometry and on the pictorial construction of his compositions. This rigorous, purified artistic approach is exemplified in the artist’s simplified, supremely elegant portraits of his lover, Françoise. Painted in the spring of 1946, La femme fleur (Zervos XIV, no. 167) depicts a full-length, nude portrait of his new muse. Picasso has simplified every part of her: her figure is reduced to a series of pure, unbroken lines and circular, harmonious forms that gently echo and mirror each other throughout the composition.
This restrained and harmonious style can likewise be seen in many of the artist’s still-lifes of this time. Gone are the frenzied, angular lines and clashing forms, and in their place, a more lyrical and balanced pictorial language. In Nature morte and Nature morte aux volets verts, lines and flattened planes of colour interact and coalesce across the composition, balancing in a perfect equilibrium. In 1946, the year that he painted these works, Picasso explained his method of pictorial construction to Françoise: ‘When you compose a painting, you build around lines of force that guide you in your construction. There’s one area where the first graphic sketch evokes the idea of a table, for example; another one, where you create the idea of the movement of space behind the table. Those lines of force set up a resonance that leads you to where you are going, because in general you don’t arbitrarily decide for yourself. But once you remove one of those elements from your composition and move it around as though it were walking at will through that two-dimensional space, you’re able to achieve a far greater effect of surprise than you could ever do by leaving it in the first position’ (Picasso, quoted in F. Gilot & C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 121).
In Nature morte, the group of abstracted, simplified objects are positioned in front of an open window, its vibrant green shutters thrown open, casting bright radiant light across one half of the scene, while the other appears to be plunged into dark shadow. The artist was clearly taken by the effect that the green shutters had on framing the still-table composition, as he depicted the same scene cloaked in darkness in Nature morte aux volets verts. During the war, Picasso often used floodlights to illuminate his studio at night, enabling him to paint just as easily as if it were day. Just the day before he painted this work, Picasso had enthused to his friend, the photographer, Brassaï, about the advantages of painting at night: ‘The light I have at night is magnificent,’ he explained, ‘I even prefer it to natural light… A light that sets off every object, dark shadows making a ring around the canvases and projected onto the beams: you find them in most of my still lifes, almost all of them painted at night. Whatever the atmosphere, it becomes our own substance, it rubs off on us, arranges itself to fit our nature’ (Picasso, quoted in Brassaï, Conversations with Picasso, trans. J. M. Todd, Chicago & London, 2002, p. 311).
Pictorial detail is dispensed with in both Nature morte and Nature morte aux volets verts, and replaced by an abstract language of signs, shapes and forms that is reminiscent of Picasso’s cubist works. The flowers in both paintings are depicted with simple crosses, while in Nature morte, the form of the vase is constructed with an assemblage of circles and lines. Verging on the edge of abstraction, this composition is constructed with patterns of lines that repeat throughout the image: the horizontal lines of the green shutter enter into a dialogue with the vertical balustrade below, all of which contrast with the circular outlines of the vase.
‘Painting is poetry and is always written in verse with plastic rhymes, never in prose,’ the artist told Françoise Gilot at around the time he painted the present works (Picasso, quoted in F. Gilot & C. Lake, op. cit., p. 120). Filled with visual rhythms that flow throughout the composition, Nature morte and Nature morte aux volets verts exemplify this concept, demonstrating how, with the simplest of means, Picasso transformed a scene of everyday life into a powerful, poetic and formally complex artwork.
Nature morte aux volets verts was formerly in the collection of the esteemed theatre and Hollywood film director Otto Preminger, noteworthy for his contribution to mid-century film noir cinema. The moody contrast of palette and subtle narrative in both Nature morte and Nature morte aux volets verts lend each composition a unique and engaging element of drama, evidencing this poignant phase of Picasso’s post-war oeuvre.
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings and Sculpture: Liberation and Post-War Years 1944-1949, San Francisco, 2000, no. 46-290a, p. 158 (illustrated).
Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Picasso: Artist of the Century, March - April, 1999, no. 26, p. 135 (illustrated p. 58 ).
Antibes, Musée Picasso, Picasso 1945-1949: l’ère du renouveau, March - June 2009, p. 140 (illustrated).