This bold still-life was painted in occupied Paris, during the time when Picasso was not permitted to exhibit his work publicly. Unlike 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. 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 (ex. cat.), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York & California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 1998-99, p. 118).
In the years following the war, Picasso was criticised by some of his contemporaries for the lack of open political engagement in his art. Rather than a vehicle for documenting the destructive reality that surrounded him, painting was for him a world of creativity into which he could escape, and his works of this period certainly express Picasso's state of mind in his own artistic language. Frances Morris wrote about the symbolism of Picasso's still-lifes of the early 1940s: "...above all it was the still-life genre that Picasso developed into a tool capable of evoking the most complex blend of pathos and defiance, of despair to hope, balancing personal and universal experience in an expression of extraordinary emotional power. The hardship of daily life, the fragility of human existence and the threat of death are themes that haunt Picasso's still-life paintings of the war and Liberation periods" (F. Morris, Paris Post War, Art and Existentialism 1945-1955 (ex. cat.), Tate Gallery, London, 1993, p. 155).
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).
Oil on canvas
New York, Staempfli Gallery, Inc., Picasso, an American Tribute. The Forties, 1962, no. 3, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Still Life with Oranges)
28 3/4 by 36 1/4 in. 73 by 92.1 cm
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso. Oeuvres de 1940 et 1941, vol. 11, Paris, 1960, no. 157, illustrated p. 69
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Nazi Occupation, 1940-1944, San Francisco, 1999, no. 41-077, illustrated p. 31 (titled Still Life with Oranges)
Galerie d'Art Moderne, Paris
Jacques Lindon, New York (acquired from the above)
Mr. and Mrs. Fernand Leval, New York (by 1962)
Sale: Christie's, New York, November 9, 1994, lot 47
Private Collection (sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 13, 1998, lot 41)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner