From his legendary collages made with chair caning and newspaper to his sculpture of a bull's head made from a bicycle seat, Picasso's most ingenious works of art were often created from objects that he found in daily life (see fig. 1). By the 1950s, he had taken this process a step further – assembling objects that he found in the environs of his home and casting them in plaster, and then casting the completed sculpture in bronze to unify the piece with a homogeneous medium. Picasso often made preliminary sketches of these works, which detail how he would implement the miscellaneous objects within the body of the composition. While working in his studio of Le Fournas in Vallauris between 1950-53, the artist executed a considerable number of these sculptures in the forms of goats, birds and other animals, creating a veritable menagerie from objets trouvés. Commenting once to his wife Françoise Gilot on this production, Picasso explained, "My sculptures are plastic metaphors. It's the same principle as in painting. I've said that a painting shouldn't be trompe l'oeil but trompe l'esprit. I'm out to fool the mind rather than the eye. And that goes for sculpture too" (quoted in Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1966). La Grue, executed in around 1952, exemplifies Picasso's intentions to challenge the mind's perception of the visual.
The present sculpture of an elegant crane was one of the prized creations that he kept in his home, alongside some of his most cherished possessions (see figs. 2 and 3). Picasso created this assemblage from a shovel, a piece of twisted wicker, two forks, a gas spigot, screw nuts and a spike. He set these objects in plaster (see fig. 5), and then cast the figure in bronze in an edition of 4 between 1953 and 1954. The resulting bronze birds were each painted with unique patterns of white stripes and black bands. According to Françoise Gilot, "it was finding the shovel which formed the tail feathers that gave [Picasso] the idea of making the sculpture of a crane." But it was probably not this object's formal similarity alone that inspired Picasso's creative project. Never turning down the opportunity to exercise his devilish wit, Picasso no doubt fashioned his creation here as a play-on-words. In French, the word 'grue' is a a slang term for woman of loose morals. This sly reference carried over into several sketches of young Parisiennes that Picasso drew in the early 1950s, in which the figures appear to be strutting and posing with the same mannerisms as a crane.
Rarely did Picasso reference industrialization and technology in his work, and the present sculpture and his La Guénon et son petit (see fig. 4), with their industrial components, are an exception to Picasso's usual motifs. Here, he has completely anthropomorphized these inanimate objects, in a manner similar to that of the Renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo who created composite heads and portraits using fruits and vegetables (see fig. 6). Conceiving the animal from household objets, Picasso has transformed the streamlined symbols of the age of industrialization into a sentimental depiction of primitive instinct. "What interests me is to make what might be called links, connections, over the widest possible distance," Picasso once remarked to Françoise Gilot, "the most unexpected link between objects I wish to consider. One must rip and tear reality" (quoted in Pierre Daix, Picasso, Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 270).
As mentioned earlier, the present work in one of four bronze versions of the crane, which Picasso kept in his home. This first cast was inherited by his granddaughter Marina, who included it in several traveling exhibitions of her private collection. It then entered the collection of the award-winning Hollywood television and film producer David Wolper.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Sculpture of Picasso, 1967-68, no. 112, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1952)
Height: 28 ½ in. 72.4 cm Conceived in 1951-52 and cast between 1952-54 in an edition of 4, each painted uniquely.
Werner Spies, Pablo Picasso, Das plastische Werk, Stuttgart, 1971, no. 461
Berggruen Collection (exhibition catalogue), Musée d'art et d'histoire, Geneva, 1988, no. 101, illustration of another cast p. 243 (as dating from 1952)
Picasso: Sculptor/Painter (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1994, no. 121, illustration of another cast p. 155 (as dating from 1951-52)
Brigitte Léal, Christine Piot and Marie-Laure Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, no. 958, illustration of the plaster in color p. 387 (as dating from 1951)
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, The Fifties I, 1950-1955, San Francisco, 2000, no. 52-066, illustrated p. 99
Werner Spies, Picasso Sculpteur, Paris, 2000, no. 461 IIb, illustrated p. 376 (bronze casts dating from 1952-54)
Estate of the artist
Marina Picasso (acquired from the above)
Galerie Jan Krugier & Cie, Geneva (on consignment from the above)
Pace Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1981)
David L. Wolper, Los Angeles (acquired from the above in 1982)
Pace Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1986)
Private Collection, New Albany, Ohio (acquired from the above)
Richard Gray Gallery, New York
Private Collection, NY
C&M Fine Arts, NY
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1994