- Pablo Picasso
- NATURE MORTE À LA BOUGIE
- signed Picasso (lower left); dated 4 avl 44 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris
Private Collection, Sweden
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in the early 1990s
F. Léger, L'oggetto e il suo concreto (exhibition catalogue), Fondazione Palazzo Bricherasio, Turin, 1996, no. 55, illustrated in colour p. 145
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Nazi Occupation, 1940-1944, San Francisco, 1999, no. 44-037, illustrated p. 325
In early April 1944 Picasso painted several still-lifes, featuring a candle and a cafetiere on a table-top (fig. 1), executed in his studio on the rue des Grands-Augustins. 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. In earlier versions of this subject painted during the previous month, Picasso included a large piece of cheese as a colourful focal point. However for the present composition, one of two oils he painted on 4th April, he focused on the expressive potential of candle light and its effect on the surrounding objects. Although the candle seems to be extinguished, it is surrounded by a halo of light that illuminates the left side of the cafetiere and the mirror hanging on the wall, while the right side of these objects appears to be in the shade. The coffee pot casts a dramatic shadow, which echoes the sharp tonal contrasts throughout the composition.
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 completing 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, 1992, p. 284).
The still-life was Picasso's preferred motif throughout the early 1940s because it offered 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. 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 (fig. 2), 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 & Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1998-99, p. 118).
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).
Fig. 1, Pablo Picasso, Nature morte à la cafetière, 8th April 1944, oil on canvas, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
Fig. 2, Picasso's studio at rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris, 27th April 1944, showing several canvases from the Nature morte à la bougie series. Photograph by Brassaï