Porcelain mug depicting a work of Picasso, Large Still Life with a Pedestal Table (Grande nature morte au guéridon , 1931), preserved at the Musée Picasso of Paris.
Still Life on a Pedestal Table reminds one not only of Halley’s painting, but also of that of another postwar American artist, Roy Lichtenstein, master of producing high art in the popular idiom of the comic book.
Halley said: “There’s also a pop quality in Still Life on a Pedestal Table, and in other Picassos of the same period, that seems to me to be way ahead of its time. A lot of 20th-century artists – and actually I think of Matisse in this regard even more than Picasso – share the language of comic-book artists and cartoonists. Their works are flat, coloured-in, diagrammatic. Another thing that has always struck about Picasso’s lines dividing colour areas is that the guy could really draw with a brush. It’s a tough thing to do because the black line has to look like a positive mark, not a space between. But the colour areas it’s dividing also have to have an edge that denotes them as a shape. And almost always he manages to draw those so that every form looks like a positive presence. That’s real virtuosity. Contemporary painters sometimes try to do the same thing, and they always fall short. Picasso did it better than anyone.”
Uniquely among artists, Picasso’s “periods” are often classified according to his love life – the last years being the epoch of his second wife, Jacqueline, the late Thirties and early Forties that of Dora Maar, and so forth. In January 1927, Picasso, then 45, met the 17-year-old Marie-Therese Walter in front of the Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette. He introduced himself with the words: “Mademoiselle, you have an interesting face. I would like to make your portrait.” Six months later they became lovers, but, as he was still officially married to his first wife, Olga, he did not paint her for several years, except in disguised form, as in Still Life on a Pedestal Table.
However, the globular fruit and jug of this picture are remarkably similar to the shapes in which Marie-Therese was painted openly the following year, 1932, in Girl before a Mirror. “The paintings of Picasso’s years with Marie-Therese are very much involved with sexuality. Still Life on a Pedestal Table is definitely anthropomorphic. Most of Picasso’s works of those years are based on the fact that he viewed her as extremely voluptuous. So, clearly, all the curves are part of his feelings towards her. And the connection of this colour that 20 years ago we might have called psychedelic with sexuality seems most intriguing to me.
“Picasso is always seen as a Don Juan, the Spanish bull. But, from the time he began painting women at the turn of the 19th century, the man was extraordinarily dependent on his girlfriends. Devoting most of his life to making portraits of his companions is unprecedented. He empowered them by becoming so dependent on them. People talk about Marie-Therese Walter as his mistress, but they were together for almost 10 years, had a baby, and he wrote her almost daily love letters over those 10 years. It wasn’t exactly a fling. Picasso as an artist and as a man was more complex than we usually think.”
Dimensions: Ø 3.22″ ; H. 3.62″
Museum: Musée Picasso (Paris)