The still life, a genre considered to be minor in painting, in the case of Picasso and other artists, takes on a special relevance during the cubist period, a movement born in bars and restaurants, which were a meeting point of artists and a space of coexistence where they shared anecdotes and good food.
Pablo Picasso. Restaurant. Paris, spring 1914. Huile sur toile découpée collée sur du verre. 42 x 34 cm. Zervos II – 347 (Prendre titre). Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte FABA in temporary deposit at Museo Picasso Málaga ©FABA, photographer unknown, all rights reserved
So as to create a new setting that wasn’t an empty space in which the objects simply rested, Picasso and Georges Braque resorted to their most immediate surroundings. And why did these objects appear in their works? Well, we can find the answer in the words of Picasso himself: “What can have been more familiar to a painter, to the painters of Montmartre or Montparnasse, than their pipe, their tobacco, the guitar hanging over the bed or the siphon on the coffee table?”.
In a similar way, tables and chairs, kitchen utensils and meals and drink would form part of the space of the work in a predominant position and in a natural way, with the intention of rehabilitating the everyday objects and the ordinary and material culture. In fact, these decaying elements of the painting or sculpture, such as a bottle of Anís del Mono or a restaurant poster, give value to the current practices and root the art of Picasso in the “taste of what is real”. They are “real” objects that surround the artists in restaurants, bars and cabarets.
Broadly speaking, we can define cubism as an artistic style characterised by representing in a simultaneous way the same object from different angles, using geometric figures and doing without the traditional renaissance perspective. In fact, it attempts to break down those mental barriers: a lemon, traditionally round, can become square and vice-versa with the objects that our mind classifies as square.
Pablo Picasso. Man with Fruit Bowl. Barcelona, June-November 1917. Oil on canvas. 100 x 70 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. MPB 110.006
It is very probable that in the discussions of Picasso with his colleague Georges Braque the importance that he had given to the material and tactile aspect of the work played a leading role, so as to highlight, beyond illusionism, the live character of the objects and the beings. Therefore, the term “still life” is more appropriate for an artist who sought to achieve the fact of having the more life in his works the better, don’t you think?
If you visit Room 02 of the exhibition “Picasso’s kitchen”, you will be able to see how these cubist still-lifes shine out for themselves. An example of this is the work The restaurant, 1914, in which the collage becomes the protagonist. For Picasso, this work represents the experimentation about the possibility of translating in painting the affects of this technique which would develop in parallel to cubism. Graphic elements, live colours that normally appear in commercial signs, divergent surface effects or letters spread over the canvas are just some of the elements.
Another work of special relevance is Jug, bowl and lemon,1907, marked by a strong inspiration in African and Iberian art. It is a premonitory painting of the artistic evolution of Picasso towards Cubism. The configuration of the fruit and kitchen utensils evokes the geometric shapes of the sphere and the cylinder. It breaks with realism, with the standards of space depth, reducing the painting to a set of angular planes without background or special perspective, in which the shapes are marked by lines and colour.
Pablo Picasso. Cruche, bol et citron, 1907. Oil on wood. Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Beyeler Collection
As an anecdote related to this last painting we are left with what exemplifies the artistic rivalry between Matisse and Picasso. In the autumn of 1907, they agreed to exchange paintings: each artist selected that work that he considered the worst example of the new work of the other, so as to make sure he was the best artist. Picasso chose a portrait of Matisse’s daughter Marguerite in 1907 and Matisse chose the still-life of Jug, bowl and lemon, 1907. After this exchange, Picasso immersed himself in Cubism.
Written by the Museum