Pablo Picasso (Spanish [worked in France], Malagá, Spain 1881 - 1973 Mougins, France)
Glass of Absinthe (Le Verre d'absinthe), 1911
Signed in dark grey oil on back of canvas, upper left: Picasso1
Oil on canvas
15 1/8 x 18 1/4 in. (38.4 x 46.4 cm)
Mrs. F. F. Prentiss Fund, 1947
Picasso's Glass of Absinthe represents a café tabletop whose surface, contents, and environment are congruent with the rectilinear picture field. As is common in Picasso and Braque's Cubist paintings of the High Analytic Period (1911-12), concrete signs of everyday reality are inserted in the abstract armature of lines and textured planes.
Picasso's Glass of Absinthe belongs to a protracted period of investigation into the pictorial structure of dimensional form. From the summer to winter of 1910, Picasso and Georges Braque's work on this question reached its point of greatest abstraction (as in Picasso's Girl in Armchair at The Museum of Modern Art).2 The armature of facets and planes that the artists had been using to structure their forms had now overtaken the image and their subjects. Form was "shattered" (as Picasso's dealer and chronicler Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler put it)3 into an arrangement of open planes, in slight recession and relief, either juxtaposed or overlapping, their edges often inseparable from one another and from the equally dimensional, textured planes of surrounding space. Reading the Cubist image means discerning its subtle shifts in tonal and linear incident, which converge towards the center and disperse towards the edges of the field. Throughout 1911, Picasso and Braque devised ways to elaborate this structural armature as a seemingly articulate system or "language" of two-dimensional representation.
Glass of Absinthe is a strong example of the exuberance and complexity with which the Cubist armature had assembled itself by the fall of 1911.4 The multiple lines and planes enliven and unify the surface with linear rhythms that emphasize the diagonal. Tonal and textural patterns denote objective qualities of tactility, relief, and recession. Inserted into the armature are signs of objects common in a Paris café, whose mode of notation shifts wittily from item to item.
The tabletop emerges discontinuously as a long, straight line that curves only at the bottom (in the center of the left side of the image), as the solid relief of a curving edge (bottom left), or as a fading, transparent form, defined only by a graceful arabesque (lower right). The decorative fringes of the tablecloth project from the table (left) or fall in sketchy, transparent limbo on the surface of the painting (bottom right). At the upper left, a scrolling curtain tieback pulls a thick cylinder of cloth in place. An opened fan sits near the lower left edge of the table. Immediately to the right, the squared, sharp planes of book pages or playing cards partly jut out of the surface in edged highlights, and partly recede into the darker textures and planes of unreadable items or space. To the right, the glass of absinthe appears as a transparent vessel--logically enough--for the planes and volumes in front or behind it. The triangular stem and curving base stand askew in a simple line drawing. The shape of the glass is barely suggested by curves that flare up and out from the stem. Placed within the dark, outer curves and solidified reflections "inside" the glass is the spoon that holds the cube of sugar on which the absinthe is poured before drinking.5
Analytic Cubist paintings such as the Glass of Absinthe are among the most challenging paintings of the twentieth century, and the precise character of their achievement has been framed in various terms since they were made. Traditionally, the literature on Cubism has identified a perceptual project, in which Picasso and Braque register the complex phenomenal experience of objects perceived simultaneously from different viewpoints.6 This account has since been discarded, and many historians have recently focused on the constant reappearance of signs and clues of popular, Parisian culture in these works, particularly in the still lifes.7 Moreover, the Cubist structural armature of 1911 and 1912 seems more like an elaborate parody of a pictorial language for registering reality than a workable idiom for representing things and relationships beyond the spaces of the picture field. At present the Cubist project is usually viewed in semiotic terms, as an investigation of the character and limits of representation as such.8
Work (C) 1998 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Pablo Picasso moved to Paris from Barcelona in 1904, where he would remain until 1945. Here he began to meet artists and writers such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, and Kees Van Dongen, and dealers such as Ambroise Vollard and Daniel Henry Kahnweiler. The saltimbanques, jesters, and harlequins of his Blue Period (1902-4) continued to be the dominant subjects of his Rose Period (1904-5), although the work of this period is distinctive for its lighter palette and less melancholic mood. During this period he also produced several sculptures and prints. The most experimental period of his early career, around 1906-7, culminated in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon of 1907. By the end of 1908, Picasso moved towards early (analytical) Cubism, working in partnership with Georges Braque to formulate an artistic paradigm that would have an extensive impact on the art of the first half of the twentieth century. Picasso continued to work in a synthetic Cubist idiom into the early 1920s. He joined the Spanish Republican cause, painting the monumental Guernica (Madrid, Centro de la Reina Sofía) in 1937 in protest against the bombing of a Basque town by pro-Franco German bombers. Leaving Paris in 1946 he lived in Antibes and Vauvenargues, continuing to create numerous works in various media, including graphics and ceramics. Never aligning himself with any movement after Cubism, he remained extraordinarily productive until the end of his life, and was one of the most versatile and influential artists of the twentieth century.
Zervos, Christian. Pablo Picasso. 33 vols. Paris, 1932-78.
Barr, Alfred H. Picasso: Fifty Years of his Art. New York, 1946.
Bloch, Georges. Pablo Picasso: Catalogue de l'oeuvre gravé et lithographié, 1904-1969. 2 vols. Bern, 1961.
Daix, Pierre, and Joan Rosselet. Picasso, the Cubist Years. Boston, 1979.
Rubin, William, ed. Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1980.
Collection Ambroise Vollard, Paris
With Galerie Pierre, Paris
Collection Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., New York (1937-44)
Sale New York (Parke Bernet), 11 April 1946, lot 29
Collection Theodore Schempp, New York (1946-47), from whom purchased in 1947
New York, Kurt Valentine Gallery, 1936. Picasso, 1901-1934. 26 October - 21 November. Cat. no. 33.
Arts Club of Chicago, 1937. Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. Collection. January. Cat. no. 20.
The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1937. Selected Exhibition of the Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. Collection. October. Cat. no. 7.
San Francisco, De Young Memorial Museum, 1939-40. Seven Centuries of Painting. 29 December - 28 January. Cat. no. 194.
Richmond, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1941. Collection of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.. 16 January - 4 March (also shown at The Philadelpha Museum of Art). Cat. no. 168.
Newport, R. I., Art Association of Newport, 1941. No cat.
New York, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., 1954. Paintings and Drawings from Five Centuries: Collection Allen Memorial Art Museum. 3 - 21 February. Cat. no. 68.
Malmö, Sweden, Radhüs, 1956. Masterworks from American University Museums (sponsored by the College Art Association). 30 June - 15 July (also shown at Utrecht, Centraal Museum; Birmingham; London, University of London, Senate House; Durham, University of Durham; Kings College; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Liège, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, as no. 30; Marburg, University Museum; Tübingen, Tübingen University Museum; and Besançon). Cat. no. 38.
New York, Saidenberg Gallery, 1962. Picasso, an American Tribute. 25 April - 12 May. Cat. no. 6.
Tôkyô, National Museum of Art, 1964. Pablo Picasso Exhibition: Japan 1964. 23 May - 5 July (also shown at Kyôto, National Museum of Modern Art; Nagoya, Prefectural Museum of Art). Cat. no. 19.
Jacksonville, Cummer Gallery of Art, 1965. Seven Hundred Years of Spanish Art. October - November. Cat. no. 49.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1966. Treasures from the Allen Memorial Art Museum. 21 July - 11 September. No cat.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1980. Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective. 22 May - 16 September. Cat. p. 147.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1989-90. Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism, 1907-1914. 20 September - 16 January. Cat. p. 202.
Zervos, Christian. Pablo Picasso. Vol. 2. Oeuvres de 1906 à 1912. Paris, 1942, no. 261.
Johnson, Ellen H. "On the Role of the Object in Analytic Cubism." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 13, no. 1 (Fall 1955), pp. 11-25.
Segui, Shinichi. Pablo Picasso. Tôkyô, 1964, pl. 8.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 119-20, fig. 120.
Fry, Roger. "The Double Nature of Painting." Apollo 79, no. 87 (May 1969), p. 366.
Fundaburk, Emma Lila, and Mary Douglass Foreman. Art in the Environment in the United States. Luverne, Ala., 1975, p. 142.
Daix, Pierre, and Joan Rosselet. Picasso: The Cubist Years, 1907-1916. Boston, 1979, p. 273, no. 440.
Rubin, William, ed. Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1980, p. 147.
Mittler, Gene. Art in Focus. Peoria, Ill., 1986, pp. 341-43.
Rubin, William. Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism. Exh. cat., The Museum ofModern Art, New York, 1989, p. 202.
Johnson, Ellen H. Fragments Recalled at Eighty: The Art Memoirs of Ellen H. Johnson. Edited by Athena Tacha. North Vancouver, 1993, p. 53.
The paint was applied alla prima atop a smooth, light grey ground of moderate thickness. Most of the impasto appears to have been executed in a light ochre or tan color, below the darker, thinner layers of grey that create the forms of the design.The painting was treated at the ICA (Intermuseum Laboratory) in 1964. Surface grime was removed; records suggest that the varnish was removed as well, and replaced with a synthetic varnish. Inpainting (of an unknown date) is visible in two very small areas in the lower left and lower right.
The support is sound, although somewhat brittle. The edges of the painting are covered with heavy black tape. The paint structure is good, despite minor, old losses at the edges, and some slight cracking and cupping.
1. Inscribed on left stretcher member: 46 x 38; and on center stretcher member: Toile et Couleur Fines/Maison Schwartz/ E Morian Suc. Rue Lepic Paris; and stamped upper left and lower right on reverse of canvas: Douanes Exposition, Paris.
2. Oil on canvas, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, inv. 23.53; reproduced in Pierre Daix and Joan Rosselet, Picasso: The Cubist Years (Boston, 1979), p. 255.
3. Cited in Pierre Daix and Joan Rosselet, Picasso: The Cubist Years (Boston, 1979), p. 81; see pp. 81-94 for a summary of Picasso's work from the summer of 1910 to the beginnings of collage in the spring of 1912.
4. Christian Zervos (Pablo Picasso, vol. 2, Oeuvres de 1906 à 1912 [Paris, 1942], no. 261) placed the Oberlin work in the spring of 1911, as there are several other still lifes of that period (dated "Spring 1911" on their photographs from the Kahnweiler archives) in which the fringed tablecloth appears. Pierre Daix and Joan Rosselet (Picasso: The Cubist Years, 1907-1916 [Boston, 1979], no. 440, p. 273) argue convincingly for a date in the autumn of 1911, due to the precision and concreteness of the object-clues, qualities which become apparent in other works of the autum and winter of 1911. Moreover, the fringes found in the Oberlin painting appear in at least two works of autumn or winter 1911: The Mandolin Player(Basel, Galerie Byeler; Daix and Rosselet, no. 425); and The Game of Chess (private collection; Daix and Rosselet, no. 441).
5. See Ellen H. Johnson ("On the Role of the Object in Analytic Cubism," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 13, no. 1 [Fall 1955], pp. 11-25) for a painstaking reconstruction of the work's formal structure and contents. Johnson's identification of the scrolling object at the upper left as a violin is less convincing than Daix's identification of it as a curtain tieback, an element that also appears in three paintings of the spring of 1911: Pedestal-Table with Wineglasses, Cup and Mandolin (London, private collection; Daix and Rosselet, no. 386); Mandolin and Glass of Pernod (Prague, private collection; Daix and Rosselet, no. 387); and Woman with Guitar Near a Piano (Prague, Narodni Galerie, inv. 0.8024; Daix and Rosselet, no. 388).
6. Ellen H. Johnson's article, "On the Role of the Object in Analytic Cubism" (Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 13, no. 1 (Fall 1955), pp. 11-25) is an example of this account.
7. See Jeffery Weiss, The Popular Culture of Modern Art: Picasso, Duchamp and Avant Gardism (New Haven, 1994).
8. The chief semiotic interpretations are: Rosalind Krauss, "In the Name of Picasso," in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), pp. 23-41; Yve-Alain Bois, "Kahnweiler's Lesson," in Painting as Model (Cambridge, Mass., 1990), pp. 65-97; and Christine Poggi, Defiance of Painting: Cubism, Futurism, and the Invention of Collage (New Haven, 1992).