With the declaration of Second World War, which took place between 1939 and 1945, most of the European countries were involved in a military conflict with more than 60 million deaths, between military and civilians, with the great drama of the Jewish Holocaust. It was a dark time for culture and freedom of opinion, where many artists emigrated to the American continent or had to live half-hidden in the countries occupied by the German army.
Pablo Picasso. Nature morte aux cerises, 9 de juny – 6 d’agost del 1943. Oli sobre tela. Centre Pompidou, París. Musée national d’Art moderne – Centre de création Industrielle. Don de l’artiste en 1947. AM 2732P
For Picasso, the beginning of the war coincided with his arrival in Royan, which led the painter to settle in a studio located in the seaside town of Les Voiliers and he remained secluded there for a year. However, he did not remain idle, as it was in this place that he painted the work El Cafè de Royan (1940), among many other works.
Subsequently, Picasso returned to Paris, where he lived as a refugee in his studio of Grands-Agustins while the occupation lasted. In this space, he tried to adapt to the times of war that were breathed on the streets of the city, where hunger and rationing ravaged the civil population.
This would be reflected in his works. First of all, decorative elements from his immediate surroundings appear, such as furniture, utensils and food, all of them related to the kitchen, which were included in all of his still-lifes.
Pablo Picasso. Vase. París, 22/04/1943. Indian ink and wash on paper. Encre de Chine et gouache sur papier. 65,8 x 50,6 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona Donació Sabartés, Jaume, 1962 MPB 70.240
Secondly, food such as fruit, fish, crustaceans and sausages, as well as knives, forks or tablecloths that are part of the home-made and traditional imagery of the Spanish inns, would embody a fabulous abundance that contrasts with this time of shortages and hardship. “You see, even a casserole can scream … Everything can scream.” Picasso told Pierre Daix.
In 1941, Picasso’s everyday point of view became tragic and picaresque. With the work Child with lobster he mocks his surroundings, representing a naked boy sitting and playing with a lobster, an elitist and gourmet product. The painting reproduces the compositional schemes of the portraits of the court jesters of various Spanish artists, especially Diego Velázquez. Picasso’s admiration for this baroque artist is well known, and some of his works can be considered to have been appropriated by Picasso. The tragicomic character of these characters is perfectly in tune with the life experience that the artist had to live in Paris.
Pablo Picasso. Young Boy with Lobster. 21 June 1941. Oil on canvas 130 x 97.3 cm Photography: RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi
From this period of hardship and hunger, we cannot forget to mention the two versions of El bufet de Le Catalan. As an anecdote surrounding this work, Robert Desnos wrote, in one of his last texts before being arrested by the Germans, a few of Picasso’s words: “I had been eating at Le Catalan for months, and for months I looked at the buffet without thinking of anything but in the fact that it was a buffet. One day I decided to do a painting of it, and did so. The next day, when I went to the restaurant, the buffet was not there, and the place it had occupied was empty. I must have appropriated it without realizing while painting. ”
This phrase refers to the fact that when Picasso coveted an object, he seized it and transferred it to his creative world, recreating it, digesting it and cooking it in a way that he created a new existence.
In Room 05 of the temporary exhibition “Picasso’s kitchen” you will be able to find these and other works, such as Still life with radishes (1944) or Still life with skull, leeks and pitcher in front of a window (1945).
Written by the Museum