Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
In 1921, the ever-innovative Pablo Picasso found himself at a crossroads. Having invented the groundbreaking language of Cubism in 1907 with Georges Braque, and having seen this style of representation from its initial Analytic phase into its subsequent Synthetic phase, Picasso now sought yet another original idiom. Ironically, this new form of expression would hark back to ancient history; his Neoclassical style would recall the balance, order and harmony of Greece and Rome. Thus, as Carsten-Peter Warncke points out, "one and the same artist was painting classicist nudes, portraits, scenes, and works in the spirit of Synthetic Cubism—at first sight quite incompatible" at the moment the present work was executed (Pablo Picasso: 1881-1973, The Works 1890-1936, 1995, vol. I, p. 245).
The present painting features many hallmarks of Synthetic Cubism. Starting in 1912, Picasso began to replace the fragmented forms and muddily monochromatic tones of Analytic Cubism with a more constructionist collage approach and a brighter palette. The dominant blocks of colour in the present composition look as though they could be snippets of paper glued onto the canvas. He has left a square of the canvas itself blank in the centre, showing its own weave as a similar texture to the fabric and the brown field—which suggests itself as the table upon which the objects are arranged—retains the texture of his paint brush, simulating faux bois, or simulated wood grain, that played a central role in the artist's papiers collés.
Just as Picasso mimics his own collages by simulating wallpaper and faux bois fragments in paint, the letters "AL" imitate the newspaper clippings commonly pasted into the artist's collages. Simon Morley describes how the words LE JOURNAL—French for newspaper—"undergo constant metamorphosis, becoming LE JOUR (the day), or LE JOU (which suggests the French word foreplay)" (The Writing on the Wall: Word and Image in Modern Art, Berkeley, 2003, p. 42). Although the reference for ‘AL’ in the present composition is unclear, it is likely a similar play on words and stands in as a cypher in reference to the full title of LE JOURNAL. As such, Picasso takes pleasure in literally playing the media of painting and collage against one another.
A similar composition on canvas exists in the Pola Museum of Art, Hakone, also from 1921, utilising the arrangement of objects and thus depicting Picasso’s process of working through different configurations of the same objects. This work was also created the same year as Picasso's Trois Musiciens (Coll. The Museum of Modern Art, New York), the canvas that many believe to be the culminating composition of Synthetic Cubism. Like that seminal triple portrait, the present work rehearses the highlights of this stylistic period—a pasted paper aesthetic, a colorful palette, textual play—even as the elements of a new aesthetic make their debut.