Alongside the Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907, Picasso made flowing studies of trees in landscapes. The linear rhythms developed in them are almost interchangeable with those present in a series of figure studies leading to major figure paintings in 1907-8. Trees can become bodies.

  • Pablo Picasso
  • Landscape related to The Harvesters
  • 1907
  • Gouache on paper
  • 63 x 48 cm
  • Musée national Picasso, Paris
  • MP 544
  • Z XXVI, 173

In 1912-13, Picasso invented a new, very simple pictorial vocabulary. His signs for musical instruments and heads were now so easily exchanged that his heads are visibly on the way to or from being musical instruments.

  • Pablo Picasso
  • Musical Instruments, Skull
  • 1914
  • Oil on canvas
  • 43,8 x 61,8 cm
  • Musée d’art moderne Lille Métropole,
  • Villeneuve d'Ascq
  • Gift of Geneviève and Jean Masurel
  • Inv. 979.4.114 | Z II2, 450
  • Photo: Muriel Anssens

In 1915, Picasso painted a series of watercolour and gouache still lives in several of which fruit-bowls with long necks form the heads in arrangements where clarinets and the arms of stringed instruments reach outwards from table-tops like gesticulating limbs. In the same year, he painted a flat yet monumental Harlequin whose long neck and tiny circular head reappear in a more intimate still-life as the neck and top of a bottle of Anis del Mono. The lozenge pattern of the bottle echoes harlequin’s costume, and the harlequin-bottle with its grey shadow rock away from the vertical as if they are dance partners.

  • Pablo Picasso
  • Bottle of Anís del Mono, Wineglass and Playing Card
  • 1915
  • Oil on canvas
  • 46 x 54,6 cm
  • The Detroit Institute of Fine Arts, Bequest of Robert H. Tannahill
  • 70.192

By 1917, the pedestal-table still-life had appeared in Picasso’s work. Its attraction was the ease with which objects, table-tops and table legs could be seen as figures: living furniture. By 1920 Picasso was returning to the pedestal-table still-life repeatedly, working in different media to produce variation after variation, often animating his still-lives in such a way that they become jaunty musicians.

  • Pablo Picasso
  • Personage with a Guitar
  • 1920
  • Gouache on paper
  • 27 x 21 cm
  • Private collection
  • Photo: Gasull Fotografia

With the simplification of his signs came an overlap in Picasso’s work between representing things and pattern making. In 1922 this led to a suite of still-lives that emphasize their repeated use of pattern by employing combinations of stripes and checks. These both explore the room for variation where elements and even groupings of signs are repeated, and test the threshold between abstraction and representation where signs are abstracted almost beyond legibility. Picasso followed these up in 1924 with extensive suites of drawings, mostly in sketchbooks, using almost exclusively dots and lines.

  • Pablo Picasso
  • Bottle, Guitar and Fruit Bowl
  • 1922
  • Oil on canvas
  • 116 x 73 cm
  • Nahmad Collection

This space contains images digitized from sketchbooks filled by Picasso in 1924-25. One group of sketches uses only a very simple dot-and-line technique which Picasso took from diagrams of constellations. A second group are sketches for the drop curtain of the ballet Mercure, which was performed in June 1924 and provided a theatrical spring-board for new still-life paintings. A third group are ideas for the tableau ‘Night’ in the ballet – a reclining figure in front of a starry sky – and for the tableau of ‘the Three Graces’. In a fourth group Picasso tries out different combinations of still-life objects alongside the major still-life paintings of 1924-25.

  • Pablo Picasso
  • Study for a Guitar
  • Juan-les-Pins, 1924
  • Pen and Indian ink on Arches
  • 31,5 x 23,5 cm
  • Sketchbook of Le chef d'oeuvre inconnu de Balzac núm.30, MP 1869, f. 37 v
  • Musée national Picasso, Paris
  • Photo: Béatrice Hatala

Picasso’s thirteen tableaux for the ballet Mercure were his response to Comte Etienne de Beaumont’s request that he work freely with the “alphabet” of gods, humans and beasts and supplied by Greek and Roman mythology. The music was by Erik Satie, the lighting by Loie Fuller, and the ballet was performed in a Montmartre music hall, the Théâtre de la Cigale. Flimsy assemblages were combined with performers taking up “plastic poses” in a series of scenes, no longer than a minute each. The surrealists greeted the production with applause for Picasso.

  • Pablo Picasso
  • Danse of the Three Graces and Cerberus, 1924
  • Picture of the tableau of Mercure
  • 17 x 22 cm
  • Archives de la Fondation Erik Satie, Paris.
  • Photo: Waléry

Alongside his work for the ballet Mercure and afterwards on the Mediterranean at Juan-les-Pins, Picasso painted a series of still-lives where a restricted dramatis personae of objects (musical instruments, bottles and bowls) are presented like actors on stage-like tables, often in front of outdoor backdrops.

  • Pablo Picasso
  • Still-life with Guitar
  • Juan-les-Pins, 1924
  • Oil on canvas
  • 97,5 x 130 cm
  • Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
  • Inv. A 6437
  • Z V, 224

In 1924-26 Picasso increasingly used the still-life theme to introduce a more violent eroticism into his painting by giving organic form to things and laying them out like body parts which he cut by scratching his lines into the wet paint. These still-lives accompanied the violent eroticism of figure paintings that explicitly bring together love and death.

  • Pablo Picasso
  • Still-life, 1925
  • Oil and sand on canvas
  • 97,8 X 131,2 cm
  • Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d'Art moderne / Centre de création industrielle. AM 1982-434. Z V, 462