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).
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