Lot 33
  • 33

Pablo Picasso

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Pablo Picasso
  • Palette, pinceaux, livre de Victor Hugo
  • Signed Picasso (lower left)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 15 by 18 1/8 in.
  • 38 by 46 cm


Max Pellequer, Paris (acquired from the artist)

Perls Galleries, New York (acquired from the above by 1968)

James W. Alsdorf & Marilynn Alsdorf, Chicago (acquired from the above on January 3, 1970 and until at least 1990)

Galerie Gmurzynska, Zug

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008


New York, Perls Galleries, 24 Major Acquisitions, 1968, no. 18, illustrated in the catalogue

New York, The Museum of Modern Art & Basel, Kunstmuseum, Picasso and Braque. Pioneering Cubism, 1989-90, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue


Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1906 à 1912, Paris, 1942, vol.II, no. 260, illustrated pl. 129

Franco Russoli & Fiorella Minervino, L'Opera completa di Picasso cubista, Milan, 1972, no. 396, illustrated p. 107

Pierre Daix & Joan Rosselet, Le Cubisme de Picasso. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint 1907-1916, Neuchâtel, 1979, no. 418, illustrated p. 268

Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso Cubisme (1907-1917), Paris, 1990, no. 583, illustrated p. 212 (titled Livre de Victor Hugo)

Picasso: The Artist’s Studio (exhibition catalogue), Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut & The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 2001-02, illustrated in color p. 24

The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Analytic Cubism, 1909-1912, San Francisco, 2015, no. 1911-080, illustrated p. 161 & illustrated in color p. XV

Catalogue Note

This exquisite still-life, rendered in crisp, monochromatic tones of silver, amber and onyx, is a rare jewel among Picasso’s Cubist production. Painted in Céret in August of 1911, Palette, pinceaux, livre de Victor Hugo 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 an artist’s palette, brushes and book.

Palette, pinceaux, livre de Victor Hugo is among the few works created during what Douglas Cooper identified as Picasso’s “high” Cubist phase, an eighteen-month period between the early summer of 1910 and the winter of 1912. Just prior to painting this work, 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 Apollinaire 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 familiarly 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). 

In addition to the radical multidimensional repetition of reality, one of the most dramatic developments of Picasso’s Cubist production was the inclusion of text, which the artist superimposed over the image of the palette in the present composition. The inclusion of words helped to define the objects that Picasso was painting and also introduced the idea of text as a means of pictorial enhancement. This technique, while not new to the history of painting, was one that incited a watershed of new developments in Cubist painting, ultimately leading to the use of collage. Here, Picasso's bold, stenciled letters R HUG are in reference to the great French literary icon, Victor Hugo. But instead of limiting the placement of the letters on the abstracted book itself, he has enlarged and fragmented them across the composition to create an entirely new context for the words. This redefinition of spatial boundaries and the appropriation of literary text for an entirely different purpose was the hallmark of the papier collé compositions that Picasso, Braque and Gris would complete two years later in 1913.