Between August 3 and August 12, 1944, Picasso painted nine canvases of a potted tomato plant, with its vines tethered to a supporting stake and positioned in front of a window. Varying in degrees of angularity and abstraction, this series incorporated vestiges of the artist's early Cubist style, as well as the bold modelling and shadowing that characterized many of his wartime still-lifes. As for the subject, it is most likely that these plants were growing at Marie-Thérèse's apartment at the Boulevard Henri IV, where Picasso moved to be with her and Maya at the beginning of August when fighting intensified between the Resistance and the German forces. Paris would be liberated by the Allied forces later that month, but in the preceding weeks, chaos broke out on the city streets and the police and transit workers went on strike. It was perhaps not without significance during these troubled times that Picasso chose to paint the resilient tomato plant, as it continued to blossom and bear fruit.
The canvas from the Greentree Foundation was painted on August 7, about mid-way through Picasso's production of this series. According to Zervos, Picasso's interest in this subject began on July 27, when he executed four preliminary drawings for these paintings, including one that specifically relates to the present work (see fig. 2). Reiterating an argument originally made by Maurice Jardot in 1955, Jean Sutherland Boggs has discussed how Picasso chose the tomato plant as a symbol of the "victory gardens" that were popular during the war, when food rations compelled civilians to grow their own produce on the window sills and balconies of their homes. Sutherland writes, "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" (Jean Sutherland Boggs, Picasso and Things (exhibition catalogue), The Cleveland Museum of Art; The Philadephia Museum of Art; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, 1992, p. 286).
The genre of still-lifes was a significant component of Picasso's wartime production, as were portraits of his mistresses Dora Maar and Françoise Gilot. These were all subjects that did not remind him of the trouble that had fallen upon Paris during the Occupation, and his concentration on these themes resulted in the most fruitful and imaginative production of still-lifes since his days as a Cubist at the beginning of the century. To his public during this period, Picasso's wartime still-lifes held even greater meaning: they were an outward sign of the artist's perseverance during the war as a resident painter in Paris. In the days leading up to the Liberation and in the midst of his painting of the tomato plant series, Picasso met with several British and American journalists and soldiers at his studio at 7, rue de Grands-Augustins who wished to praise him for this accomplishment. After his visit to Picasso's studio, John Pudney, the British Royal Air Force squadron leader and poet wrote that he had seen canvases of "the pot of growing tomatoes which stood in the window," and reported Picasso to have remarked, "a more disciplined art, less unconstrained freedom in a time like this is the artist's defense and guard...Most certainly it is not a time for the creative man to fail, to shrink, to stop working...." (quoted in the The John Hay Whitney Collection (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, 1983, p. 153).
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. Perhaps the best example of the public's favorable attitude toward the artist was expressed in an article from the New York Times in October 1945: "Today Picasso stands out as the standard-bearer of the artistic movement. In the first place, his attitude during the occupation has won general admiration. He steadfastly refused to fall for propaganda wiles as did too many French painters and sculptors. He neither exhibited his works in Paris under German auspices nor accepted junketing tours through the Reich under the plea that 'art has no country.' And when the German authorities offered him coal which to heat his studio he replied that he preferred to freeze -- like most Parisians. For these reasons -- and others -- Picasso occupies the place of honor in the Autumn Salon" (reprinted in Michael FitzGerald, "Reports from the Home Fronts: Some Skirmishes over Picasso's Reputation," Picasso and the War Years (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, pp. 118-19).
In June of 1945, the Galerie Louis Carré staged one of the first exhibitions of Picasso's wartime production, organized in collaboration with the Comité France-Espagne to benefit Spanish relief efforts. The present work was included among the 21 paintings featured in this show and was thereafter acquired by Picasso's longtime dealer, Paul Rosenberg. Rosenberg's son, Alexandre, later sold it to the Whitneys in 1948 (see fig. 4). Since then, it has been exhibited in some of the most important exhibitions of the artist's work, including the major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1980.
Fig. 1, Pablo Picasso, Plant de tomate, August 12, 1944, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Plant de tomate, July 27, 1944, blue conte crayon on paper, location unknown
Fig. 3, Installation view of the Picasso exhibition held at the Galerie Louis Carrie in 1945. The present work hangs in the corner to the left.
Oil on canvas
Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Picasso Libre, 21 Peintures: 1940-1945, 1945, no. 17
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Selections from five New York Private Collections, 1951
New York, Paul Rosenberg Galleries, Picasso, 1955, no. 15
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, Pictures Collected by Yale Alumni, 1956, no. 144
New York, Paul Rosenberg Galleries, Masterpieces Recalled, 1957, no. 43
Milwaukee Art Institute, An Inaugural Exhibition: El Greco, Rembrandt, Goya, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, 1957, no. 106
London, The Tate Gallery, The John Hay Whitney Collection, 1960-61, no. 44
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1976
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Pablo Picasso, A Retrospective, 1980
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The John Hay Whitney Collection, 1983, no. 64
35 7/8 by 28 1/4 in. 91 by 71.8 cm
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1944 à 1946, vol. 14, Paris, 1963, no. 22, illustrated pl. 12
Jean Sutherland Boggs, Picasso and Things (exhibition catalogue), The Cleveland Museum of Art; The Philadephia Museum of Art; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, 1992, fig. 117b, illustrated p. 286
Picasso and the War Years (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1999-2000, photograph of an installation view of the Picasso exhibition held at the Galerie Louis Carrie in 1945 featuring the present work
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, The Nazi Occupation, 1940-1944, San Francisco, 1999, no. 44-148, illustrated p. 375 (as dating incorrectly from 8.12.44)
Galerie Louis Carré, Paris (acquired from the artist)
Paul Rosenberg, New York (acquired from the above)
A.P. Rosenberg & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above)
Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney (acquired from the above on April 19, 1948)