Pablo Picasso, Composition - Le Verre
Executed between the early summer of 1910 and the winter of 1912, during what art historian Douglas Cooper has described as Picasso’s “high” Cubist phase, Le Verre is a prime example of Picasso’s Analytical Cubism. Picasso spent the summer of 1911 working alongside Georges Braque in Céret, in the French Pyrenees. It was in Céret, where the present work was executed as well as complex oils such as L'Accordéoniste, that Picasso sought to create a work of art that captured the reality of an object beyond its outward appearance (see fig. 1).
In 1908, Picasso began to reinvent the way in which an object is viewed, pushing the limitations of painterly representation. Picasso spent the early years of 1908-09 refining this technique; Le Verre is an excellent example of this innovative visual language. Set within the horizontal and vertical framework of Picasso’s “Cubist grid,” Le Verre marks a clear change in artistic direction from the earlier cubist works. Encapsulating the artist’s shift towards a more total abstraction, the strong linear framework allows for a composition that is perforated with light and flashes of color. Capturing the three-dimensional upon a two-dimensional plane, Le Verre is a remarkable work from an intellectually rigorous period in the artist’s oeuvre.
Picasso’s evocation of perspective, through the fragmentation of the canvas, was inspired following a visit to Cézanne’s 1907 retrospective at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery. Picasso was intrigued by the elder artist’s stylistic innovations, closely studying Cézanne’s ability to create a pictorial space that negated any feeling of emptiness, and instead seemed to resonate with energy. This fascination with Cézanne can be seen in the relation of Cézanne and Picasso's portraits of Ambroise Vollard (see figs. 2 & 3). Pierre Daix and Joan Rosselet, discussed the qualities in Cézanne’s paintings that Picasso was conscious of, particularly: “… 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, 1988, p. 64). Picasso sought to capture and develop upon these plastic rhythms, as his biographer John Richardson has articulated: “… everything had to be tactile and palpable, not least space. Palpability made for reality, and it was the real rather than the realistic that Picasso was out to capture. A cup or a jug or a pair of binoculars should not be a copy of the real thing, it need not even look like the real thing; it simply had to be as real as the real thing” (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. II, New York, 2012, p. 103). Picasso began to create canvases in which the subject was blown apart and explicated from all angles, remaining at one with the space around it. In Le Verre, Picasso delves into the core of the object, until it is not clear where the titular verre ends and the environment around it begins.
Despite the intellectual complexity of Analytical Cubism, Picasso found inspiration for his motifs from the objects surrounding him. For Picasso, the glass was rich with artistic possibilities; its transparency and subtle curves allowed for a myriad of ways in which light could refract. In Le Verre, Picasso employs an adept handling of medium to create a composition that is shot through with light, and a glass that is viewed from all angles at once. Picasso’s dealer, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, alluded to the liberating possibilities afforded by this illusionistic ability: “The painter no longer has to limit himself to depicting an object as it would appear from one given viewpoint, but wherever necessary for fuller comprehension, can show it from several sides, and from above and below” (D. Kahnweiler, Der Weg zum Kubismus, 1920, reproduced in Marilyn McCully, ed., A Picasso Anthology: Documents, Criticism, Reminiscences, New Jersey, 1997, pp. 70-71). The sections of the canvas not daubed with color evoke the translucency of glass, while concurrently creating a visual pun—the painted object is captured through seemingly unpainted space. The delicate flash of green pervading the center is an enlivening addition to the configuration, alluding to the fractured light beams and the freshness of summer in Southern France. Testament to Picasso’s meticulous study of space and depth, and highly skilled in execution, Le Verre is further set apart through the experimental use of vivid color, anticipating the brighter palette of Synthetic Cubism, which would come to the fore in the following few years in a variety of media (see figs. 4 & 5). Through careful chromatic arrangement, a striking crystallization of form and a resonant interplay of negative and positive space, Le Verre encapsulates the most fundamental elements of Analytical Cubism.
Le Verre has an important history. It has been on long-term loan at both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fogg Art Museum. The work’s first recorded owner was Henry McIlhenny, a major Philadelphia art collector and philanthropist, who served as Chairman on the board of trustees at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and was described by Andy Warhol as “the only person in Philadelphia with glamor”. Much of McIlhenny’s estate was left to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, including the seminal Intérieur by Edgar Degas and La Danse au Moulin-Rouge by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (see figs. 6 & 7). The present work was later sold to New York collector Murray Silberstein by the legendary dealer E.V. Thaw. Thaw was a discerning collector of quality works on paper who donated many works to the Morgan Library in New York City. Coming to auction for the first time, Le Verre has been in the same private collection since the 1960s.