Lot 3
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PABLO PICASSO | Nature morte à la chaise et aux glaïeuls

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
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  • Pablo Picasso
  • Nature morte à la chaise et aux glaïeuls
  • Signed Picasso (upper right); dated 17 Septembre 43 (on the stretcher)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 57 1/2 by 44 7/8 in.
  • 142.2 by 114.3 cm
  • Painted on September 17, 1943.


The artist (until at least 1946)

Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (acquired from the artist by 1965)

Mr. & Mrs. Leigh B. Block, Chicago (acquired by 1968 and sold: Sotheby’s, New York, May 20, 1981, lot 346)

Acquired at the above sale


Paris, Salon d’Automne, 1944

Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Picasso in Chicago, 1968, no. 42 (titled Chair with Gladiolus)

Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago (on loan 1978-81)

Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Collects: Art Since 1940, 1986

Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art; Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, & Paris, Grand Palais, Picasso and Things: The Still Lifes of Picasso, 1992

Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Picasso and the Avant-Garde in Paris, 2010


Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of his Art, New York, 1946, illustrated p. 236 & in a photograph of the 1944 Salon d'Automne p. 246 

Harriet & Sidney Janis, Picasso, The Recent Years 1939-1946, New York, 1946, illustrated pl. 68 & in a photograph of the 1944 Salon d'Automne pl. 3 (titled Vase of Gladioli on a Chair)

Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1943 et 1944, vol. XIII, Paris, 1962, no. 123, illustrated pl. 67

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1943 at the height of the Nazi occupation of Paris, Nature morte à la chaise et aux glaïeuls is unique among the corpus of Picasso’s varied still lifes from the war years. Its large scale, its incorporation of mirrors, chairs and lively blossoms and its playful and airy color palette are a marked contrast from the majority of Picasso’s wartime output, which usually featured tabletop arrangements of pots, glasses, and bottles depicted in a dark palette—often completed under the cover of darkness by candlelight or behind heavily shaded curtains. Rather than using his art to document the horrific violence and destruction taking place all across the continent or for outwardly political objectives, Picasso saw quotidian objects and familiar compositions as a creative escape from the chaotic reality of his surroundings and the atmosphere of fear gripping the city of Paris. The still-life genre thus became Picasso’s preferred motif during the war years. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Picasso had no urgent need to leave Paris during the German occupation, and continued to work in his studio at 7, rue des Grands-Augustins. Despite a four-year hiatus from public exhibition, Picasso dedicated most of his days to painting, visiting his lovers past and present and spending time with his two children Paulo and Maya. Frankly Picasso’s life retained a sense of normalcy in the occupied city, even as his fellow artists took a more active role in the Resistance. While some of his contemporaries criticized Picasso for the lack of open political engagement in his art, others such as Alfred Barr deemed his wartime output 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” (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).

Similarly, Frances Morris summarized the symbolism of Picasso's still lifes of the early 1940s as “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” (in Paris Post War, Art and Existentialism 1945-1955 (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1993, p. 155).

The significance of Nature morte à la chaise et aux glaïeuls must also be contextualized in the larger trajectory of Picasso’s oeuvre and that of Western Modern art. For as long as he was an artist, still lifes remained a favored channel of artistic experimentation. His evolution of styles in this genre is distinctly visible in the present work. The pot of gladiolus flowers, with its dynamic upward energy, evokes the floral compositions that Picasso completed during his first months in Paris as a nineteen year old, while the geometrically fractured chair contains vestiges of Cubist technique. Picasso’s treatment of the chair and stylization of the tiled floor and pastel-colored walls recall the still life composition that van Gogh completed of his chair, pipe and straw hat in his yellow house in Arles (see fig. 1). In both works the artists seem interested in distorting perspective while using simple strong lines to harmonize the composition. In the 1980s, David Hockney too practiced the fragmenting of interior spaces in his large-scale canvases upon his return to California. In his seminal work Large Interior, Los Angeles, completed in 1988 (see fig. 2), Hockney employs a combination of van Gogh’s radiant palette and Picasso’s deconstruction of one-point perspective to create a monumental interior still life of his own living room “where the viewer’s eye could be made to move in a certain way, stop in certain places, move on, and in so doing, reconstruct the space across time for itself” (the artist quoted in David Hockney (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris & The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2017, p. 145).

By the outbreak of the second World War, Picasso was an international celebrity and financially secure. Without a critical need to sell his works, many paintings from this period remained in his studio, and were first exhibited to the public only after the liberation of France in summer 1944. At the first post-liberation Salon d’Automne held that fall, a room was dedicated to Picasso’s wartime canvases. The present work and many others were exhibited to great fanfare as symbols of cultural endurance, though not without controversy (see fig. 3). In a letter dated November 16, 1944, Henri Matisse wrote to fellow artist Charles Camoin, "Have you seen the Picasso room? It is much talked about. There were demonstrations in the street against it. What success! If there is applause, whistle" (quoted in M.C. Cone, “Matisse and the Nationalism of Vichy, 1940-1944” in Artnet Magazine, 2005).