The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Maya Widmaier Picasso and Claude Ruiz Picasso.
Painted on 6th March 1937, Nature morte à la cruche is filled with sensuality and playfulness. The lyrical streaks of rich, white paint and the still life ‘picture-within-a-picture’, evoke an atmosphere of joyful abandon. Amidst increasing political upheaval and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, in the spring of 1937 Picasso simultaneously executed a number of bright still lives and tender portraits of his great muse and lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter and their daughter, Maya. Indeed, Nature morte à la cruche was painted on the same day as several portraits of Marie-Thérèse, including Femme assise aux bras croisés, now in the Musée Picasso, Paris.
Nature morte à la cruche was painted at Picasso’s new retreat, a farmhouse in Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, near Versailles. Having settled his mistress Marie-Thérèse and their child at Le Tremblay, Picasso made regular visits there from Paris, revelling in the bucolic and tranquil setting that was free from the anxiety of impending war.
For Picasso, painting, particularly the genre of still life, had always been deeply autobiographical. Everyday, inanimate objects are charged with a human, and in this case, sexual presence. In Nature morte à la cruche, the ripe fruit and the curvature of the jug, as well as the rich, generous brushstrokes, are all suggestive of the sensual, undulating curves of Marie-Thérèse. The voluptuous blonde here evoked contrasts with the features of Dora Maar, with whom Picasso was also involved at this time. Françoise Gilot recalls the differences between these two women, 'Marie-Thérèse was a sweet, gentle woman, very feminine, and very fully formed – all joy, light, and peace. Dora, by nature, was nervous, anxious, and tormented' (F. Gilot with C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 236). The artist was living a double life; publicly seen in Paris with Dora Maar, while privately devoted to Marie-Therese and his child in the idyllic surroundings of Le Tremblay. The ‘picture-within-a-picture’ that appears as a swirling pencil drawing of a still life with fruit, a witty mediation on the nature of representation, lends Nature morte à la cruche a sense of playfulness and exuberance. The painting illustrates Picasso’s endless creative energy as well as the extraordinary hold that Marie-Thérèse had over him.
Picasso rarely invited friends to his retreat at Le Tremblay. As a result, many of the paintings he created there remained unknown and unseen for a long time. Picasso however gave Nature morte à la cruche to his friend, renowned French publisher Albert Skira, who was Picasso’s neighbour in Paris on the rue de la Boétie. At the time this picture was painted, Skira was in the process of publishing the influential Surrealist review Minotaure, for which Picasso would create the iconic cover. It is a testament to their friendship and spirit of collaboration between the two that Nature morte à la cruche was a gift from the artist to Skira.