Lot 53
  • 53

Pablo Picasso

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
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  • Pablo Picasso
  • Vase de fleurs et compotier
  • Signed Picasso (lower right) and dated 17 Septembre 43 on the stretcher
  • Oil on canvas
  • 31 7/8 by 51 1/8 in.
  • 80.9 by 130 cm


Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (acquired from the artist in 1944)

Galerie Louis Carré, Paris (by 1946)

Carmess Art Galleries

Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired in part from the above on March 19, 1948 and until at least 1949)

Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London (by 1957)

G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh (sold: Sotheby's, New York, March 23-24, 1966, lot 74)

Alfred H. Barr, Jr., New York (acquired at the above sale)

Roger Van Thornout, Belgium (acquired from the above)

Private Collection, Switzerland

Private Collection (sold: Christie's, London, June 20, 2006, lot 140)

Acquired at the above sale


Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Dix-neuf peintures de Picasso, 1946, no. 16, illustrated in the catalogue

New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Picasso, 1948, no. 12, illustrated in the catalogue

London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., XIX and XX Century European Masters, 1957, no. 41, illustrated in the catalogue

Turin Galleria Gissi, Maestri Stranieri, 1963

Bogota, Musée Nacional de Colombia, Pablo Picasso, 2000

Barcelona, Musée Picasso, Picasso, War and Peace, 2004, no. 96, illustrated in the catalogue


Wilhelm Boeck, Picasso, Stuttgart, 1955, no. 172, illustrated p. 474

Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1943 à 1944, vol. 13, Paris, 1962, no. 131, illustrated pl. 71

The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings and Sculpture, A Comprehensive illustrated catalogue, 1885-1973: Nazi Occupation, 1940-1944, San Francisco, 1999, no. 43-241, illustrated p. 265


Very good condition. Original canvas. There is a small spot of retouching in the pink pigment in the lower left visible under ultra-violet light. Some light craquelure in areas but the surface is stable and the impasto is well preserved..
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

Painted under cover of darkness in his studio on the rue des Grands-Augustins, this still-life is one of Picasso's most symbolically-loaded compositions fom the war years.  The inspiration for this canvas was the bowl of cherries that Picasso noticed on the banquet of his favorite restaurant, Le Catalan, which he incorporated in many of his still-lifes during the summer of 1943.  It was at this establishment in early May that Picasso first encountered the young painter Françoise Gilot, who was sitting at a nearby table with some friends.  According to Gilot's recollection, Picasso came over to her table with a bowl of cherries and "offered some to all of us, in his strong Spanish accent, calling them cerisses, with a soft, double-s sound," (F. Gilot & C. Lake, My Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 14).   This introduction sparked a decade-long romantic partnership that resulted in two children and a wealth of art documenting the couple's time together.  The bright-red cherries that are the focal-point of the present composition are certainly the highlight in this magnificent composition, and the jolt of color that they add to the picture can certainly be a metaphor for Francoise's refreshing entré into the artist's life in the midst of the war.

Because of the confining circumstances of occupied Paris, Picasso made a habit of painting at night or behind heavily shaded windows, and the chromatic severity of his pictures from this time conveys the ambiance under these conditions.  Vase de fleurs et compotier belongs to a series of still-life paintings Picasso executed in the latter half of 1943, featuring a bowl of cherries and glasses arranged on a tabletop.  The present work is a particularly vibrant example of the motif and more structured and polished than many.  The elements of the composition are linked through a series of diagonal lines, with bowl, window, vase and table all rendered in adjoining triangles.

We know from Picasso's dating of this picture that he completed it one day after receiving a summons from the occupying German forces to report for a physical examination.  Faced with the prospect of being sent to a work detail in Essen, the ever-defiant Picasso continued to paint, creating one of his most vibrant cherry compositions among this entire series.  "It is not time for the creative man to fail, to shrink, to stop working," Picasso told Sidney and Harry Janis.  "There is nothing else to do but work seriously and devotedly, struggle for food, see friends quietly and look forward to freedom" (Picasso, quoted in M. McCully, ed., A Picasso Anthology: Documents, Criticism, Reminiscences, Princeton, 1997, p. 224).  It was with this sentiment in mind that Picasso continued to paint, relishing in the small, quotidian luxuries presented by a bowl of fresh cherries and yearning of better times ahead.

In the years following the war, Picasso was criticized by some of his contemporaries for the lack of open political engagement in his art. Rather than a vehicle for documenting the destructive reality that surrounded him, painting was for him a world of creativity into which he could escape, and his works of this period certainly express Picasso's state of mind in his own artistic language. Frances Morris wrote about the symbolism of Picasso's still-lifes of the early 1940s: "Above all it was the still-life genre that Picasso developed into a tool capable of evoking the most complex blend of pathos and defiance, of despair to hope, balancing personal and universal experience in an expression of extraordinary emotional power. The hardship of daily life, the fragility of human existence and the threat of death are themes that haunt Picasso's still-life paintings of the war and Liberation periods" (F. Morris, Paris Post War, Art and Existentialism 1945-1955 (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1993, p. 155).