Jean-Louis Barrault, Paris
Pierre Agoune, Europe (acquired from the family of the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Nazi Occupation, 1940-1944, San Francisco, 1999, no. 44-040, illustrated p. 326
In addition to the more obvious symbolism of the candle as a flicker of hope during the war, Picasso must have had particular art historical precedents in mind when working on this picture. Jean Sutherland Boggs explained: ‘When he returned to the idea on 4 April , Picasso was obviously more aware of the candle as a symbol, either snuffed out as it had been in the composition with cheese, presumably as a reminder of the shortness of life, or as the source of light in his apartment since electricity was so uncertain during the war. That the light was something more than practical is apparent in the enthusiasm with which he executed the flame and the pattern of light it shed. It was somewhat florid, like the straight-back chair with curlicues, which he put beside the table in each of the stages of the painting or the suggestion of ornament in the frame of the mirror above. The presence of the mirror, although hardly emphasized, does suggest Picasso could have been thinking of a traditional vanitas theme’ (J. Sutherland Boggs, Picasso & Things (exhibition catalogue), The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 1992, p. 284).
The still-life was Picasso's preferred motif throughout the early 1940s, offering a placid alternative to the stress that clouded daily life during this time. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Picasso had no urgent need to leave Paris during the war, and continued to work in his studio at 7, rue des Grands-Augustins, where Brassaï visited him on several occasions and photographed his work (fig. 2) during Allied bombing raids on Paris. By this point in his career, Picasso was a celebrity and financially secure. As he did not have to worry about selling his work, the paintings from this period remained in his studio, only to be exhibited after the war. 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. While some of his contemporaries criticised Picasso for the lack of open political engagement in his art, others, such as Alfred Barr, deemed his activity heroic. Barr wrote: ‘He was not allowed to exhibit publicly and he made no overt gestures but his very existence in Paris encouraged the Resistance artists, poets and intellectuals who gathered in his studio or about his café table’ (A. Barr, quoted in Picasso and the War Years: 1937-1945 (exhibition catalogue), California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco & The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1998-99, p. 118).
More recently, Frances Morris analysed 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).
Nature morte was once in the collection of Jean-Louis Barrault (1910-1994), the celebrated French actor and director. In the 1940s Barrault was a member of the Comédie Française, where he made his reputation as a theatre director. He also acted in a number of films including one of the lead roles in Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis.
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