Pablo Picasso

(Spanish, 1881–1973)

Flower Vase on a Table

, 1942
Oil on canvas, 38 1/16 x 51 1/4 in.
Gift of Owen and Leone Elliott, 1968.39


"I have not painted the war, because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer looking for something to depict. But I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done." 

          – Pablo Picasso

Painted at night in occupied Paris in August 1942—one of the bleakest and most violent periods of World War II—this painting reflects the strong sense of menace and loss felt by everyone in Europe at that time. The austere tonal palette defines a web-like composition that seems to capture meager rations in facets of shattered glass, suggesting an acute threat to personal freedom.

Picasso chose to remain in Paris, in spite of the German occupation. His status as a foreigner exacerbated the normal hardships of the Parisian occupation. Given the scrutiny under which he worked, blatant political expression would have been foolish, thus his paintings took an inward approach that focused on the trauma of war and the pressures of life.

Flower Vase on a Table communicates a somber air of loneliness that is bleak and confining. Picasso stripped his colors to a narrow range of greens, grays, and browns. The space is typically Cubist; the objects and table top are tipped steeply toward the picture surface, adding to the sensation of instability.

Some art dealers chose not to display Picasso's work, for fear of retaliation from the Nazis. While other art dealers left Paris or had closed their doors, Galerie Louise Leiris remained in operation, and Leiris purchased Flower Vase on a Table directly from Picasso in 1942. Owen and Leone Elliott purchased the painting in 1956, from the Galerie Louise Leiris, and gifted it to the UIMA in 1968.