Discussing the still lifes of the 1920s, the artist’s biographer John Richardson notes that they “are astonishingly varied in their dazzling colors, elaborate patterning, rich textures and complex compositions. No longer did Picasso feel obliged to investigate the intricate formal and spatial problems that had preoccupied him ten years before. Instead he felt free to relax and exploit his cubist discoveries in a decorative manner that delights the eye” (quoted in Picasso, An American Tribute (exhibition catalogue), Knoedler Galleries, New York, 1962, n.p.). In the present work, the viewer’s eye is drawn toward the two eggs, their yolks emphatically rendered with varying shades of yellow, surrounded by whites that have been stylized into a long oval. A baguette dominates the right side of the composition, its volume rendered with strong and crisp lines. Beneath the food items rests a rolled up napkin and casually arranged utensils, the texture of which has been masterfully depicted through Picasso’s use of impasto.
The 1920s was a decade of experimentation for Picasso, during which he reinvented his pre-war Cubist vocabulary while also developing a unique Neoclassical style as part of the larger rappelle à l’ordre taking place among the European avant-garde in response to the horrors of the preceding years. In his neo-Cubist compositions of this decade, Picasso introduced new elements of shading and formal lines to express volume, breaking down perspective even further in a search for the true essence of objects. The exuberance in these works during this highly significant period of his career speaks of a certain personal contentment following the sobriety of the war: “When we think of the still lifes by Picasso in the twenties and early thirties, we usually remember first those that are generous and sometimes even exuberant, presumably an expression of his prosperity, his domestic contentment, his sexual satisfaction, and a general happiness” (J. Sutherland Boggs, ed., Picasso & Things, Cleveland, 1992, p. 199).
In this series of still lifes, Picasso focused on a limited number of objects including fish, guitars, glasses and fruit bowls, evoking the core elements of his Cubist compositions while simultaneously illustrating the influence of Purism, which replaced the multiple depictions of quotidian objects with stability and precision. This prescriptive subject matter enabled Picasso to have the freedom to experiment with formal arrangements, adapting and developing combinations of shapes, while creating depth through tones and textures. Elizabeth Cowling observed of these 1920s still lifes: “In their poise, control, and subtlety, they remind one of Chardin's modest kitchen still lifes, in which a limited repertoire of everyday objects is shuffled and reshuffled to form a series of variations on the same melodic theme " (E. Cowling, Picasso, Style and Meaning, London, 2002, pp. 381-82). The deconstruction of form and the use of planes of color led to an abstraction of everyday objects that directly inspired artists of the Pop Art movement in the 1960s.
Although he rarely spoke about his paintings, Picasso commented on the liberties he took with his still lifes: “It is a misfortune—and probably my delight—to use things as my passions tell me… How awful for a painter who loathes apples to have to use them all the time because they go so well with the cloth! I put all the things I like into my pictures. Things, so much the worse for them; they just have to put up with it” (quoted in C. Zervos, “Conversations avec Picasso” in Cahiers d’Art, Paris, 1935, pp. 173-74).
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