Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale


Pablo Picasso
1881 - 1973
signed Picasso and dated 11-3-21 (lower left)
pastel and pencil on paper
32.1 by 25.1cm., 12 5/8 by 9 7/8 in.
Executed on 11th March 1921.
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Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.


Galerie Simon, Paris
Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York
Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr., St. Louis
Mr. & Mrs. Perry Rathbone, Cambridge, Massachusetts (a wedding gift from the above in 1945)
Thence by descent to the present owner

Catalogue Note

Nature morte avec guitare et compotier, executed in 1921, dates from a dynamic period in Picasso’s career in which he alternated between a variety of artistic styles, creating Cubist compositions, Neo-Classical statuesque nudes, as well as naturalistic line drawings. The present work belongs to a long and varied series of still lifes that Picasso painted in 1919-1921, in which the artist assembled still life elements on an ornate pedestal table (guéridon) in front of a window. Although the motif is reminiscent of his studies for the curtain drop of the Ballet Russes production Le Tricorne (1919), Picasso did not in fact begin to explore the plastic potential of the guéridon series until the late summer of 1919 when he was staying at Saint-Raphaël on the French Riviera with his wife Olga Khoklova. No doubt inspired by the beauty of his surroundings, the guéridon series also began as an intellectually and artistically reflective exercise, as Brigitte Léal explains: ‘The theme of the window itself belongs to a long tradition of pictorial theory - painting as metaphor for window, window as metaphor for painting. Window frame echoes painting frame; reflective glazing in either case allows interaction of images inside and out; while curtains suggest a theater stage, and so on. These references to the artifice of art allow a philosophic-aesthetic stand: "windows" permit linkage of two antithetical worlds, linkage of reality and décor […] By leading us into the spiraling labyrinth of images in his open window series, Picasso not only poses the problem of status of the image and autonomy of the sign but also takes a measure of his own activity at the time’ (Picasso & Things (exhibition catalogue), Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992, pp. 32-36).

The guéridon as a motif allowed the artist to create dynamically structured compositions which tested the bounds and mechanics of space, a concept that had absorbed him since his early Cubist experiments. Some of Picasso’s most familiar still life elements, the guitar and the fruit bowl, are biomorphically arranged on a table amidst a background of horizontal shapes and interlocking two-dimensional forms. The result is a tightly constructed composition adorned with pockets of colour that imbue the work with a new sense of order and balance. Executed during the interwar period, the composition displays Picasso’s mastery of Synthetic Cubism, which embodies an aesthetic of Classicism and unity that reacts staunchly against the catastrophic chaos and devastation wrought by the First World War.  As John Richardson notes, 'The development of this last great period of Synthetic Cubism can easily be followed through the 'Guéridons' [...] No longer did Picasso feel obligated to investigate the intricate formal and spatial problems that preoccupied him ten years before. Instead he felt free to relax and exploit his Cubist discoveries in a decorative manner that delights the eye [...] Never again did the artist's style recapture the air of magisterial calm that is such a feature of this last great phase of Cubism' (John Richardson, Picasso, An American Tribute, New York, 1962, p. 52).

This characterful Cubist work on paper was a gift from Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. to Mr. & Mrs. Perry Rathbone on the occasion of their marriage in 1945. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. was the grandson of the crusading newspaper publisher and congressman after whom the world-renowned journalism prize is named. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. chaired the board responsible for awarding the Pulitzer Prize for over thirty years and was a champion of Modern art in his hometown of Saint Louis, where he was reunited with Perry Townsend Rathbone (1911-2000), another devotee of the period; the two had initially met while attending Harvard University in the 1930s. Rathbone was appointed director of the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1940 aged only 29, making him the youngest museum director in the country at that time. He was instrumental in securing a teaching post for Max Beckmann at Washington University in Saint Louis and arranged the German painter’s landmark retrospective exhibition in the city. Rathbone became director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1955 where he built up their collection of Modern and Contemporary art. Among his acquisitions was the museum’s first oil by Picasso, Figure debout (fig. 1).

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale