By 23 July 1944, when Picasso completed this still-life of a glass, lemon and pitcher, lit in dramatic chiaroscuro, 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 Christie's New York sale, 9 May 2007, lot 55). 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, Chardinesque 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 in mid-July 1944. Considering the start date of 14 Juillet on the reverse of this canvas, which is not noted in the Zervos catalogue, the present painting may have been the first in the series, auspiciously begun on Le 14 Juillet, Bastille Day. The dark shadow on the right side recalls some of the earlier wartime still-lifes, while the incoming flood of light on the left side suggests that better times are soon to come. Picasso continued working on this series through the 26th, painting thirteen canvases in all (Zervos, vol. 13, nos. 289, 314 and 315; vol. 14, nos. 2-9 [no. 2 was sold, Christie's New York, 9 May 2007, lot 49]). 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 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, which required a walk over the Seine to the Right 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. BARCODE 24930451_001
Verre et pichet
Oil on canvas
Signed 'Picasso' (upper left); dated '23-14-Juillet 44' (on the reverse)
20th Century, Paintings, oil, France, Modern, still life
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
13 1/8 x 16¼ in. (33 x 42 cm.)
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1963, vol. 14, no. 5 (illustrated, pl. 3).
C.-P. Warncke, Pablo Picasso 1881-1973, Cologne, 1994, vol. II, p. 462 (illustrated in color).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors and Sculpture: Nazi Occupation: 1940-1944, San Francisco, 1999, p. 364, no. 44-124 (incorrectly illustrated).
Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
Jean Planque, Paris.
Jane Wade, Ltd., New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1966.