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European & American Art
Cubism, Expressionism / Suprematism gallery

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Spain 1881 – France 1973

Nature morte au masque, 4 mars 1937 [Still-life with mask, 4 March 1937]
[Composition au masque [Composition with mask] Still life with mask, 4 March 1837 Glass, bottle and mask] 1937 Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, Île-de-France, Yvelines, France
Creation Notes: 4 March 1937
paintings, cardboard, metal, wood, string, oil paint and sand on canvas
Technique: cardboard, metal, wood, string, oil paint and sand on canvas
Place Published: le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, France (unconfirmed)
Primary Insc: not signed, dated verso u..l., oil, "4.3.37"
46.0 h x 55.0 w cm
Frame 107.2 h x 112.2 w x 14.0 d cm
Purchased 1992
Accession No: NGA 92.788
© Pablo Picasso/Succession Picasso. Licensed by Viscopy

  • with the artist at his death in 1973;
  • by descent to his son Claude Picasso (b.1947), Paris;
  • from whom bought through The Pace Gallery, New York, by the Australian National Gallery, June 1992
  • Pablo Picasso probably made Still life with mask during his visits to Marie-Thérèse Walter and their eighteen-month-old daughter, Maya. What may initially appear as a head next to a body and an arm, on further study can be seen as a playful still life conjoining emblems of the café scene, theatre and studio.

    Picasso toyed with studio debris, such as a cardboard box for paint and a tube for paintbrushes, to create a mask, a wine bottle and a glass, taking pleasure in imposing his will on such unworthy and intractable materials. The same disregard for artistic niceties dictated that he only roughly covered his changes of mind as to where things should go, such as the smudge above the mask. The trouble he took to get the essentials right is evident in the sideways tilt to the mask, the pulled-down bottom edge to make the mouth, and the top edge raised at the left to echo the perspectival game with the table. The table is cleverly suggested by a splintered piece of cedar wood and grey paint covered with sand.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

  • Still-life with mask is one of a small number of relief constructions that Picasso is thought to have made at Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, not far from Versailles, where he visited Marie-Théreèse Walter and their daughter Maya almost weekly from the autumn of 1936 to the outbreak of the Second World War.1 These works are made from the most unpromising household rubbish — crushed tin cans, a broken tile, a frayed table-cloth, even a dish scourer — recycled into images of domestic still-life.

    Unlike the ingredients of other works in the group, Still-life with mask is made essentially from the litter of the artist's studio. The 'bottle' is a cardboard box in which tubes of paint are supplied. The cardboard petitions in the box — for three tubes of paint — are cut in the centre horizontally by the round lid of a tin can, the protruding edge of which is rolled back slightly to bring it into line with the front of the box. Another cardboard petition, inverted, forms the triangular neck of the bottle. The mask is made from the lid of the same box and is skewed slightly sideways and downwards to show the plane of the top of the box, foreshortened, as if manipulated pictorially. The 'glass' is cut from a cardboard tube which carries part of the label for the artists' suppliers, Lefranc, and the foot of the glass is denoted by the pink metal stopper from the same tube. A splintered stick of cedar wood, one end still coated with the blue-green stain from its former existence as part of a piece of furniture perhaps, forms the leading edge of the table.2 These elements are carefully sewn onto the canvas using string which is knotted at the back. The base and top of the table are painted in flat grey oil paint, and the surrounding area is evenly covered in fine sand. A smudge of darker grey above the mask covers a change of mind-two holes punctured in the canvas where Picasso may have originally positioned the mask. Since the elements of the relief draw so heavily on the cast-off materials of the painter, Still life with mask becomes a rich set of puns or metaphors on the subject of pictorial creation.

    The mask is an unusually dramatic image in the still-life repertoire of relief constructions from Le Tremblay-sur Mauldre. It is like a face, fixing a black hole stare on the viewer. A few years earlier Picasso had made small 'faces' in plaster at Boisegeloup which are virtually identical with the mask in this still-life.3 In this case however, the conjunction of the mask with the upright peaked shape of the table-top, creates an image that goes back further, unintentionally perhaps but none the less clearly, to the cowled head of the masked monk in the Three musicians 1921 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). The starkness of Still-life with mask distinguishes it from the other reliefs of Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre.

    Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.206.

    1. Five of these relief constructions have been exhibited; Construction with with ceramic tile 1936-37 (private collection), first exhibited 'Hommage à Pablo Picasso', Paris 1966-67, cat. no. 267; The table February 1937 (collection Mr and Mrs Rafael Lopez-Cambil), first exhibited 'Pablo Picasso: Das plastische Werk', Berlin 1983, cat. no. 170; Still-life with mask 4 March 1937 (Australian National Gallery, Canberra), first exhibited 'Pablo Picasso: Das plastische Werk', ibid., cat, no. 168; Glass and bottle10 April 1938 (collection Bernard Ruiz-Picasso), first exhibited 'Hommage à Pablo Picasso', op. cit. Cat. no. 268; Bottle and flowers June 1938 (private collection), first exhibited 'Hommage à Pablo Picasso', op cit. cat. no. 269.
    2. Wood showing the same traces of paint was used in the relief construction Glass and bottle 10 April 1938 (collection Bernard Ruiz-Picasso).
    3. See Werner Spies, Picasso sculpture, London: Thames and Hudson, 1972, cat nos. 148-9

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010