Lot 2
  • 2

Pablo Picasso

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Pablo Picasso
  • Flacon et livres
  • Signed Picasso on the reverse
  • Oil on canvas
  • 15 by 18 1/8 in.
  • 38 by 46 cm


Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris

Henry Tertius James Norton, Cambridge (acquired in 1912)

J.E. "Lucy" Norton, London (by descent from the above)

Estate of Miss J.E. Norton, London (sold: Sotheby’s, London, April 24, 1963, lot 65 )

Perls Galleries, New York (acquired at the above sale)

Galerie Tarica, Paris

Acquired from the above by the present owners


London, Grafton Galleries, Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, British, French and Russian Artists, 1912, no. 69

London, Tate Gallery, Picasso, 1960, no. 55, illustrated in the catalogue

London, Lefevre Gallery (on loan)

Bordeaux, Galerie des Beaux-Arts & Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Les Cubistes, 1973, no. 20

Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art & Nagoya, Nagoya City Art Museum, Picasso, 1998, no. 37, illustrated in the catalogue

Koblenz, Ludwig Museum, Deutschland-Frankreich: Dialogue, 1999, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Milan, Palazzon Reale, Picasso, 200 capolavori dal 1898 al 1972, 2001-02, no. 25, illustrated p. 167

Ishoj, Arken Museum of Modern Art, Picasso for all times, 2004

Madrid, Fundacion cultural Mapfre Vida, Entre el Novecentismo y la vanguardia, 1906-1926, 2002, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Il Cubismo, Rivoluzione e tradizione, 2004-05, illustrated in color in the catalogue

London, Tate Britain & Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery, Picasso and Modern British Art, 2012, no. 5, illustrated in color in the catalogue


Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1906 à 1912, vol. 2*, Paris, 1942, no. 241, illustrated p. 119

Françoise Cachin, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Picasso (oeuvres de 1907-1916), Flammiron 1972, no. 370, illustrated p. 105

Pierre Daix & Joan Rosselet, Le Cubisme de Picasso, Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, 1907-1916, Neuchâtel, 1979, no. 371, illustrated p. 260

Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso Cubism 1907-1917, New York, 1990, no. 557, illustrated p. 201


Original canvas. Under UV light, there is no evidence of retouching apart from an isolated and faintly visible repaired tear in the upper right, which is not visually disturbing. The impasto on the surface is intact, and over all this work is very good condition.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

This spectacular still-life, rendered in crisp, monochomatic tones of silver, amber and onyx, is a rare jewel amidst Picasso’s Cubist production.  The picture dates from the prime of Picasso’s Analytic Cubist phase (1909-1911), and represents the apotheosis of that important movement in the history of modern art.  The essential components of the Cubist idiom - the crystallization of form and the resonant interplay of negative and positive space - are embodied here in the abstracted still life of a flask and books.

The present picture is among the few works created during what Douglas Cooper identified as Picasso’s “high” Cubist phase, an 18-month period between the early summer of 1910 and the winter of 1912.  It was during this period that Picasso completed his iconic sculpture Tête de femme (Fernande), which expressed the geometric principles of his Cubist objective in three-dimensional form.  The sculptural exercise directly informed his understanding of how to translate this aesthetic into painting, and the oil compositions that he completed around this time are considered his most accomplished of the Cubist era.

Still, luminaries like Apollonaire insisted that Cubist pictures were faithful, multidimensional representations of reality, only requiring some effort on the part of the spectator in order to piece together the subject at hand.  “Using planes to render volumes, Picasso enumerates the different elements composing objects in such a complete and penetrating manner that they only assume the aspect of objects thanks to the spectator’s efforts… Is this art more profound than it is elevated?  It doesn’t dispense with the observation of nature, and it works on us as familiarity as nature itself” (G. Apollinaire, Les peintures Cubistes, Paris, 1913, p. 36).   Picasso himself had little to do with these titles, and concerned himself more with the visual construction of the image by means of his painting.

It cannot be understated that, at this point in his career, Picasso believed himself to be the heir of Cézanne’s brilliant, stylistic legacy, and he considered any associations between his own work and that of Cézanne as a true measure of success.  The young artist’s adulation of Cézanne was fueled by the 1907 retrospective at Vollard’s gallery, after which Picasso changed the course of his production dramatically.  Ever mindful of Cézanne’s radical perspective and emphasis on geometry, Picasso was particularly conscious of “the sense of vibration that [Cézanne’s] solid forms have and also the presence of a tenuous space surrounding each one, which, far from interrupting the plastic rhythms, links them to the atmosphere around them” (P.Daix & J. Rosselet, Picasso, The Cubist Years, 1907-1916, Boston, p. 64). 

Flacon et livres inspired a legacy of its own as part of the landmark Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition organized in London by the inimitable art historian and critic, Roger Fry.  When it was exhibited at this exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in 1912, it was the only work of the dozen paintings and three drawings by the artist that sold.  According to a recent exhibition devoted to exploring Picasso's impact on his English contemporaries, this picture was bought by Harry Norton (1886-1937), a Cambridge mathematician and member of the Bloomsbury circle.  It is presumed that Norton acquired the work at the urging of the painter Vanessa Bell, who had herself acquired a similar still-life by Picasso a few months earlier.  In her correspondence with her sister Virginia Woolf, Bell spoke of how thrilled she was with her new acquisition.  For his part, Norton kept the Picasso under discussion in his home in Cambridge, where it was viewed by André Gide in 1918.  According to Roger Fry, "Gide liked the Picasso," but Norton kept the work to himself for the remainder of his life.  His sister Lucy, a painter and second-generation Bloomsbury member, later inherited the picture and lent it to an exhibition at the Tate in 1960.