Pablo Picasso’s ‘La Plage, Juan-les-Pins’ finds a home in Mumbai: What the artwork signifies
Forty four years after the artist’s death, the Lodha Group of India has managed to acquire La Plage, Juan-les-Pins, a critically acclaimed work by Pablo Picasso. It was purchased earlier this year through Christie’s, the British auction house, through a process that took over 18 months. The artwork was sold with a photo-certificate from the Picasso Administration, signed by the artist’s son Claude Picasso, certifying the work’s authenticity. It is now being exhibited in Mumbai.
The painting is historically significant as it dates back to 1937, the seminal year in which Picasso also unveiled his classic, Guernica, which depicts the horrors and sufferings caused by the Spanish Civil War. Guernica was a response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain, by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italian warplanes at the request of the Spanish Nationalists.
But La Plage, Juan-les-Pins is a complete contrast to Guernica as far as the tonality, style and colour palette is concerned. It is calmer and symbolises the ‘lull after the storm’. This is the reason why it could probably not achieve the same repute that its predecessor did, unfortunately.
On the face of it, La Plage, Juan-les-Pins is quite soothing and reflects Picasso’s peaceful state of mind after the Spanish War subsided, at least in his proximity. But there are veiled elements in the artwork that project the underlying disturbance within the painter. While the angles are not as sharp as the razor-edged diamond cuts of Guernica, their steepness does indicate a sense of turbulence within the painter.
Jason Carey, director — Impressionist & Modern Art, Christie’s London, agrees that the angularity in certain parts of the painting does make way for graphic tension but he insists that the overall mood of the painting is leisurely and joyous. “Picasso had moved to the south of France, where the painting is set, from Paris. The geography shaped his state of mind tremendously as the south of France was much more peaceful. The leisurely strokes and the blues, whites and oranges suggest that it is coming from a happy place.”
The geography probably explains how Picasso could produce completely different artworks in Guernica and La Plage, Juan-les-Pins within the same calendar year, as he moved from the war-torn Paris to the relatively calmer south of France, accompanied by his mistress Marie-Therese Walter and five-month-old daughter Maria de la Concepcion. The setting of the painting is the beach of Juan-les-pins at the fashionable Cote de Azur in southeastern France. The scene depicted in painting is set by the Mediterranean Sea, also known as the French Riviera.
“He was having a great time with his family. It’s a happy occasion and that gets reflected in the painting. Unlike his previous paintings, he has not stuck to the grey palette and has used colours liberally. The effect is not subdued and the colours are saturated which shows that the painting is pretty much devoid of any melancholy or fear,” says Jason.
The painting can also be interpreted as an output of disgorging. It seems like Picasso’s pace while creating this masterpiece was just like the setting and the state of his mind — leisurely. It can be deduced by the frenzied first impression of the artwork that he went back to it at regular intervals rather than investing long sittings on the same. The colour of the sky varies which only substantiates the assumption that he created the painting at different times of the day.
Since he was on a holiday, and a much-needed break from the chaos of the Spanish Civil War, it is safe to assume that he went back to his painting only when he felt at peace. Whenever even a sliver of doubt crept into his mind, he must have returned to spending quality time with his family or just enjoying the breeze by the sea. Once he would regain his composure, he would return to the artwork hoping to sublimate his emotions onto the canvas.
But given the fact that Guernica emerged from the brush of the very same artist, it is tough to assume that the historic artwork would have ever left the painter. It is bound to have seeped into the subsequent works of the artist, especially in La Plage, Juan-les-Pins since it was an immediate successor. Therefore, the red and orange outburst in the sky depicted in the painting can be interpreted as the volcanic eruption that Guernica, the bombing incident was, and the indelible imprint it left on his mind.
But Jason insists that Picasso was not, by any stretch, a politically inclined person. He never intended to make any political statement through his paintings. While he may have been torn between Spain and France, because of the conflict between his homeland’s belonging and the love for the country where he spent the majority of his life, he never assumed a political stance. Thus, the presence of the French national flag unfurls itself as a symbol of intrigue.
“I think the flag just happened to be there. Since the setting is a port, flags are usually present there. The colours of the flag are beautiful and spread all over the painting. The effect, I think, just stems from Picasso’s positive mood which is why he amplified all the colours before his eyes. What is more fascinating is the mirrored depiction of flag. It could be because the flag was hung upside down that day or may be a deliberate move on his part. I consulted a number of experts only to arrive on the consensus that we do not know,” says Jason.
As Jason alludes to the possibility of a casual usage of the French national flag in the painting, he also steers clear of any influence of his love life on the artwork. But art advisor Farah Siddiqui hints at the painting also being an extension of his conflicted, yet largely pleasant, personal life. “His personal life and professional life were almost always intertwined and the result was deeply passionately created art,” she says.
In the case of La Plage, Juan-les-Pins, it also seems to be a reflection of the ecstasy that he experienced on the birth of his daughter. He named his daughter after his sister who died in childhood, as she was born on the same day as her. He had made a childhood promise to God that he would give up painting if his sister’s life is spared. Since his sister could not survive, he considered painting a divine gift, “tainted with mortifying guilt.”
The happiness caused by the birth of his daughter populates the majority of the painting, as demonstrated by the palette of bright colours and the leisurely mood. But somewhere in the angularity of the figures lurks the grief of losing his son from the first wife, Olga Khokhlova. As soon as she learnt the birth of his daughter from a mistress, she snatched away the custody of their young son Paulo. Also, on an erotic front, the lack of intellectual compatibility with the mistress, which was initially a refreshing change from the cerebral Olga, started getting on his nerves.
In fact, he had almost given up on painting after his personal and professional (the artistically exhausting Guernica) took a toll on his creativity. But history is glad that he resigned to fate. Had that not occurred, India would have been deprived of harbouring one of the legendary painter’s happiest, yet artistically deceptive, works.
La Plage, Juan-les-Pins is currently housed at the World Towers by Loadha Group in Mumbai but will eventually find its place at Lodha Altamount.