Pablo Picasso - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips

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    Pablo Picasso, 'Vase de fleurs', Lot 13

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 27 June 2019

  • Provenance

    Olivier Sainsère, Paris
    Jacques Sainsère, Paris (by descent from the above)
    Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris
    Baron Louis de Chollet, Fribourg (acquired circa 1964)
    Christie's, New York, 15 May 1985, lot 31
    Private Collection, Europe (acquired at the above sale)
    Christie's, New York, 3 November 2004, lot 40
    Acquired aftersale from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Musée de Orangerie des Tuileries, Chefs-d'oeuvre des collections suisses de Manet à Picasso, May 1967, no. 238, n.p. (illustrated, dated 1901)
    New York, Michael Werner Gallery, Flowers for Summer, 30 June - 10 September 2011
    New York, Gagosian Gallery, Picasso & the Camera, 28 October 2014 - 3 January 2015, pp. 41 and 365 (illustrated)
    The Hague, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 2013-2015 (extended loan)

  • Literature

    Pierre Daix, Georges Boudaille and Joan Rosselet, Picasso: The Blue and Rose Periods, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, 1900-1906, Neuchâtel, 1966, no. V. 27, p. 156 (illustrated, p. 169; dated, 1901)
    Janet Flanner Genêt, 'Letter from Paris', The New Yorker, 10 June 1967, p. 138
    Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso: Supplément aux années 1903-1906, vol. 22, Paris, 1970, no. 123, p. 41 (illustrated)
    Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso: The Early Years 1881-1907, Oxford, 1981, no. 991, p. 382 (illustrated, titled Jug with Flowers)

  • Catalogue Essay

    In Vase de fleurs, 1904, a rich blue background reminiscent of the lapis lazuli used as a pigment by the Old Masters is punctuated by starbursts of flowers, explosions of colour. The various blooms become a showcase in painterly technique, as befits an early picture by Pablo Picasso. This painting was originally considered to date from the very dawn of Picasso’s Blue Period, around 1901, when he was creating a number of similarly-themed still life compositions. Later, it was convincingly suggested that this was in fact a work from September 1904, when Picasso was in Paris, and when the chill and melancholy of the Blue Period were beginning to lift. In Vase de fleurs, this is evident in the colours of the petals, which introduce a beguiling warmth and vitality. Many credit this shift in Picasso’s palette, which saw him ushering in the so-called Rose Period, to the beginning of his relationship with Fernande Olivier, who would be his partner for over half a decade, during some of the most important developments in his work. It is a tribute to the quality of Vase de fleurs that its first owner was Olivier Sainsère, one of the most important early patrons of Picasso and indeed a number of other artists, including Henri Matisse. Vase de fleurs was later in the collection of Baron Louis de Chollet, a prominent Swiss collector and member of a notable Fribourg family who was depicted by Balthus in a portrait with his daughters. His collection included works by Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

    Regarding the date of Vase de fleurs, it was originally seen to relate to a number of other floral still life compositions that Picasso had created during the incredible flurry of activity upon his return to Paris in 1901 and his preparation for his first significant exhibition, at the gallery of Ambroise Vollard. On that occasion, Picasso was sharing the show with one of his compatriots, his better-established senior Francisco Iturriño. Picasso crammed a vast array of pictures into the exhibition, effectively trying to blast his fellow exhibitor out of the water. Picasso showed a range of works on themes as diverse as flowers, the races, seedy nightlife scenes and bullfights. This show saw Picasso celebrated for his use of colour, taking place shortly before the death of his great friend Carles Casagemas, a traumatic event that is often seen to have been the catalyst for the Blue Period, when the new monochrome would dominate.

    In their catalogue raisonné of the Blue and Rose Periods, Pierre Daix and Georges Boudaille ascribed Vase de fleurs a date of 1901, relating it to some of the other flower paintings of this period. However, even they pointed out that it was not stylistically in keeping with them. In 1970, when Vase de fleurs was published in the catalogue raisonné of Picasso’s works compiled by the artist’s friend, the publisher Christian Zervos, its date was given as 1904. Later, Josep Palau i Fabre would narrow down the parameters by noting the clear similarities between this picture and a pair of gouaches created in Paris in September 1904, which themselves relate to another gouache, the Madonna of the Garland. Looking at one of these in particular, the gouache now owned by the Memorial Art Museum at the University of Rochester, it would be easy to conclude that it might even show some of the same flowers.

    Palau i Fabre dated Picasso and Fernande’s first encounter to August 1904, only a month before Vase de fleurs was painted. Certainly, her distinctive features are perceptible in a drawing of lovers Picasso signed and dated in August that year. Fernande’s status at the time was complex. Her real name was Amélie Lang. She had married young, but the relationship had been a disaster. Since then, she had had a string of lovers and worked as a professional model. Picasso himself was still involved with Madeleine, one of the great muses of the Blue Period, when he began to see Fernande. This led to a very gradual emergence of each into the life of the other, culminating with her moving into his studio in the so-called Bateau-Lavoir, the legendary ramshackle hive of artists’ dwellings on the rue Ravignan in Montmartre, in 1905, the year after Vase de fleurs was painted.

    Fernande’s own memoirs contain telling details about the atmosphere at the time. Recalling Picasso’s studio, she described an altar he had made to her during the early stages of their relationship. This comprised, ‘a table with lighted candles, which are immediately replaced as soon as they burn out, as well as two deep blue Louis-Philippe vases with artificial flowers in them, like those Cézanne must have had... What inspired him to create this shrine dedicated to unrequited love? As well as nostalgia, a mocking self-irony and humour, I think it showed a kind of mysticism’ (Fernande Olivier, quoted in Marylin McCully, ed., Loving Picasso: The Private Journal of Fernande Olivier, New York, 2001, p. 162). Seen in the context of Vase de fleurs, Fernande’s description suggests the flowers shown here may relate to Picasso’s altar. Certainly, that quasi-religious connection has been established between Picasso’s pictures of flowers and his Madonna of the Garland of the same period.

    Fernande claimed that Picasso had begun smoking opium shortly before she met him. This may provide an intriguing insight into the atmosphere in Vase de fleurs. Certainly, the comparison between this picture and the gouache owned by the University of Rochester emphasises the new atmosphere that was beginning to seep into Picasso’s pictures. This may have been due to the Fernande creeping into his life, step by step, to opium, or to the gradual lifting of the oppressive weight of the Blue Period. A new poetic sensibility was beginning to flavour Picasso’s paintings at this time. This is exemplified by the presence of the flowers in Vase de fleurs, with their vivid beauty, their dramatic colours but their clear relationship to the memento mori message contained in so many traditional floral still life compositions by earlier artists. There is a deliberate fragility to some of the petals in Vase de fleurs that accentuates this notion of the vulnerability associated with life, a concept that was all too close to Picasso’s life after the death of Casagemas. But the light and colours in Vase de fleurs speak of this more positive aspect to that delicate lyricism. In this sense, the picture can be seen to pre-figure Rose Period masterpieces such as Picasso’s celebrated Garçon à la pipe, painted the following year. In that work, a slender youth is shown holding a pipe—perhaps tapping into the iconography of his dalliance with narcotics. In the background are flowers, and so too in the form of a wreath on the boy’s head.

    As is the case with Garçon à la pipe, the almost narcotic atmosphere of Picasso’s flower paintings can be seen to recall the mystery, the dream-like quality, of the pictures of Odilon Redon. The end of the Blue Period and the beginning of the Rose are suffused with a similar oneiric poetry to that of Redon’s works, which were often marked by an almost subaqueous ambience. Perhaps it was in part this that drew Sainsère to Vase de fleurs—he was one of Redon’s great patrons in the early part of the 20th century, and indeed the artist drew his portrait, which is in the Ian Woodner Family Collection. Picasso begrudgingly admitted that Redon was an interesting painter, though he disputed Matisse’s claim that he was greater than Manet.

    There was another artist whose influence Picasso was more willing to admit who had been creating flower paintings filled with a lyrical ambience: Paul Gauguin. In his biography of Picasso, the late John Richardson related that the artist had his own richly-annotated copy of Gauguin’s Noa Noa. During the early 1900s, Picasso would create a number of works that openly referred to Gauguin’s images, and indeed in one of them, signed it ‘Paul Picasso’. Picasso painted Vase de fleurs only a year after Gauguin’s death, adding a vivid sense of its being a tribute to the older artist. The picture recalls some of Gauguin’s own flower paintings from throughout his career, from the more boldly Impressionistic works of the 1880s to the overtly-mystical visions created in Tahiti and the Marquesas, when he had become a legendary figure, immersed in the exotic atmosphere half the way around the world from his former home.

    By the time Picasso painted Vase de fleurs, Sainsère had been a relatively long-standing collector of his work, especially considering the artist was still in his early twenties. Already listed as the owner of a few of the pictures in Vollard’s show in 1901, Sainsère would continue collecting Picasso’s works until the development of Cubism. While his financial support ceased then, the two clearly remained in contact. Sainsère was ‘Conseiller d’Etat.’ His powerful position allowed him to extend some protection to Picasso at various stages of his life, helping him to arrange his papers and indeed to be absolved of suspicion of involvement with the anarchists of the day. It was at around this period that Sainsère had also provided early support to Matisse, buying a number of his works from Vollard. Fernande herself recalled Sainsère’s visits to Picasso’s studio in the Bateau Lavoir: ‘We’ve had a windfall', she wrote. 'Picasso never answers the door in the mornings, and the concierge, who knows this (and about our ever-pressing need for money, among other things), came at ten o’clock this morning, knocking at the door herself and shrieking: “M’sieu Picasso, M’sieu Picasso, you’d better open up, this is a serious visit.” Picasso, who was fast asleep, leaped out of bed to open the door, while I took refuge in the little bedroom. It was Olivier Sainsère, and after getting Picasso, who was never embarrassed by his state of undress, Sainsère bought some drawings for 300 francs’ (Fernande Olivier, quoted in Marylin McCully, ed., Loving Picasso: The Private Journal of Fernande Olivier, New York, 2001, p. 162).

    Fernande recalled that Sainsère would sometimes buy pictures, occasionally leaving hundred franc bills in the studio as much-appreciated—and speedily-spent—payment. It is no surprise to find that a number of the pictures owned by Sainsère are now in museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Louvre, Paris and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. The works by Picasso that Sainsère owned included Woman with a Crow from the same period as Vase de fleurs, another work that has a Blue Period background shot through with warmer colours; it is now in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio.

  • Artist Biography

    Pablo Picasso

    Spanish • 1881 - 1973

    One of the most dominant and influential artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso was a master of endless reinvention. While significantly contributing to the movements of Surrealism, Neoclassicism and Expressionism, he is best known for pioneering the groundbreaking movement of Cubism alongside fellow artist Georges Braque in the 1910s. In his practice, he drew on African and Iberian visual culture as well as the developments in the fast-changing world around him.

    Throughout his long and prolific career, the Spanish-born artist consistently pushed the boundaries of art to new extremes. Picasso's oeuvre is famously characterized by a radical diversity of styles, ranging from his early forays in Cubism to his Classical Period and his later more gestural expressionist work, and a diverse array of media including printmaking, drawing, ceramics and sculpture as well as theater sets and costumes designs. 

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Property of an Important Private Collector, Europe


Vase de fleurs

signed ‘Picasso’ lower right
oil on canvas
65 x 50.3 cm (25 5/8 x 19 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1904.

£2,500,000 - 3,500,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £2,415,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019