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Carafe et plant de tomate
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About the item

Picasso's paintings of a tomato plant in bloom are considered some of the most important works that the artist produced during the war years. Although his work of this period tended to avoid direct references to the war and was often escapist in subject matter, these pictures are imbued with both personal and cultural significance. In the summer of 1944, when the Allied forces began to advance towards Paris and the end of Nazi Occupation was in sight, Picasso could not help but to be embroiled in current events. For the first time since completing his epic Guernica in 1937, he made direct references in his pictures to life in Europe during the war. The most significant of these efforts is his tomato plant series. While staying with his mistress Marie-Thérèse and their daughter Maya at the Boulevard Henri IV in the weeks before the Liberation, Picasso took notice of the potted tomato plant that was growing besides the window of the apartment. Potted fruit-bearing plants such as these were not uncommon in civilian households throughout Europe during this period, when food rations limited the amount of available produce for consumption. Seeing the resilient plant as a sign of hope, Picasso began a series of four drawings of the theme that July, and eventually developed his ideas onto canvas from the 3rd through the 12th of August.\nIn her discussion of this series, Jean Sutherland Boggs has written: "Picasso was recording this consequence of war, not as a deprivation, but as a source of admiration. His tomatoes are heavy and full, most of them handsome green promising the blush of pink, and then the brilliant vermilion of the ripe fruit. Picasso could not have helped admiring their readiness to grow toward the freely painted sunlight and sky, which he expressed in the movement of the vines and the shape of the leaves as well as in the fruits themselves. The tomato plants are an earthy and decorative metaphor for the human need to survive and flourish even within the constraints of war" (J. Sutherland Boggs, Picasso and Things (exhibition catalogue), The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland; The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1992, p. 286).\nThe present work was painted on 3rd of August, and is the first of this series of nine canvases that he completed over the course of the next several days. In each of these pictures, he renders his subject with different levels of abstraction and detail, and presents the tomato plant at different stages of bloom (figs. 1 & 2). In the present work, the branches of the plant are weighed down with the heavy tomatoes, ripe and ready to be picked.  Perhaps the most abstract of the series, this painting incorporates vestiges of Cubism from the 1910s and the curvilinear biomorphic forms that Picasso favoured in his Surrealist pictures of the 1930s. Although it is assumed that the location of the plant is near a window, the background of this picture is highly fragmented to the point of abstraction; what appear to be window panes in the upper left quadrant are barely distinguishable from the carafe on the left. For his palette Picasso has chosen brilliant shades of red and green to emphasize the fecundity of the plant. For the background view outside the window, he paints the canvas with different shades of gray - a colour that calls to mind the smoke and gunfire that could be heard throughout the city during these frightening last few weeks of the war. Rarely has Picasso invested a still life with such meaning and sociological importance. The depiction of bright red, round tomatoes in what is otherwise a largely monochrome composition, suggests the curves of a female body. In his ever present fascination with sexuality and the female form, Picasso incessantly explored new ways of giving a visual expression to his obsession.\nUnlike many of his avant-garde contemporaries, Picasso had no urgent need to leave Paris during the war, and continued to work in his studio at 7, rue des Grands-Augustins (fig. 3). His art was blacklisted by the Nazi regime and he was not permitted to exhibit his pictures publicly by government decree. By this point in his career, Picasso was a celebrity and financially secure. Because he did not have to worry about selling his work, the paintings that he completed during this period remained in his studio, only to be exhibited after the war. Many of his admirers interpreted the artist's decision to remain in France during this period as a venerable act of patriotism. Although Picasso was not an active member of the Resistance movement like his biographer Christian Zervos, his artistic activity during the war was deemed as heroic by many of his contemporaries around the world, including Alfred Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Writing of Picasso's importance in this respect, Barr noted: "[Picasso] 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 cafe table [...]  Picasso's presence [in Paris] during the occupation became of tremendous occult importance [...] his work has become a sort of banner of the Resistance Movement" (quoted in Picasso and the War Years (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 1998-99, p. 118)\nIn the days leading up to the Liberation and in the midst of his painting of the tomato plant series, Picasso was visited by British and American journalists and soldiers at his studio at 7, rue de Grands-Augustins (fig. 4). When asked about the historic significance of the paintings that he produced during the war years, including the present canvas, Picasso remarked, "I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict.  But I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done. Later on perhaps the historians will find them and show that my style has changed under the war's influence. Myself, I do not know" (quoted in ibid., p. 13).\n\nFig. 1, Pablo Picasso, Plant de tomate, 12th August 1944, oil on canvas, Private Collection\nFig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Plant de tomate, 7th August 1944, oil on canvas\nFig. 3, The artist in his Paris studio on the rue des Grands-Augustins during the war\nFig. 4, Allied soldiers in Picasso's studio after the Liberation, September 1944.  Photograph by Robert Capa\nSigned Picasso (lower left); dated 3 août 44 on the reverse
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medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Pablo Picasso

dimensions

73.6 by 92 cm

exhibition

Milan, Palazzo Reale, Picasso, 1953, no. 108, illustrated in the catalogue Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Picasso, 1955, no. 99, illustrated in the catalogue Munich, Haus der Kunst; Cologne, Rheinische Museum and Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Picasso 1900-1955, 1955-56, no. 98 New York, The Museum of Modern Art and Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Picasso: 75th Anniversary Exhibition, 1957 San Francisco, Museum of Art, American Business and the Arts, 1961

literature

Harriet and Sidney Janis, Picasso, the Recent Years (1939-1946), New York, 1946, pl. 31, illustrated Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Œuvres de 1944 à 1946, Paris, 1963, vol. 14, pl. 13, no. 23, illustrated The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Nazi Occupation, 1940-1944, San Francisco, 1999, p. 371, no. 44-140, illustrated

provenance

Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris Saidenberg Gallery, New York Guennol Collection, New York Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, New York Richard Feigen Gallery, New York Private Collection, New York Perls Galleries, New York Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1982

signedDate

Signed Picasso (lower left); dated 3 août 44 on the reverse

time_period

Painted in 3rd August 1944.

creator_nationality_dates

1881-1973


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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