Spanish artist Pablo Picasso’s paintings sell for millions of dollars, but what of the palette he used for painting them? Rough-hewn cardboard, with a thumbhole clumsily sawn out, his palettes are the paintings before they become the finished products; artefacts of his method and talent.
That's why buyers snapped up three of Picasso's palettes at an auction in Sotheby's London on Thursday night, with one going for a total of £56,250 (Dh256,247), more than eleven times its estimate.
The other two sold for £25,000 and £23,750, and they were all from the personal collection of Picasso’s granddaughter, Marina Picasso.
These numbers are not quite the same as the £86 million Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) previously fetched, but still within a price bracket that finished paintings by other artists might respectably command.
The high-achieving palette is dated 17.6.61 on the reverse of the card, meaning Picasso would have used it to create one of his later masterworks, such as the 1961 Le dejeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass).
The painting shows four figures picnicking on the grass, with a small white blanket and food in the corner. Figures and objects are pushed up against the foreground, portrayed with the lack of Renaissance perspective that Picasso and Cubism are known for.
This particular painting, which is now at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany, was one of a number of works that Picasso made in homage to Manet's Dejeuner sur l'herbe (1861/1862). While now it is understood to be a seminal demonstration of the self-reflexivity so prized by Modernism, at the time it was rejected by the Paris Salon, and later shown in the famous Salon des Refuses.
The composition is the same as that which Picasso copied – two men, two nudes – but in its naturalist execution the painting’s provocation is even more breathtaking, as Manet sought to make the work a mash-up of art-historical tropes.
Manet’s painting fascinated Picasso, and the Spanish artist made 27 paintings, 150 drawings, 18 maquettes, and five prints inspired by the work.
"When I see Manet's Le dejeuner sur l'herbe, I think: there is pain ahead," the artist reportedly said.
The Dejeuner in the collection of the Museum Ludwig – which one of the palettes sold at Sotheby's last night was used for – is a highlight of this series.
Looking at the palette, one can almost imagine Picasso mixing together the paints to get the right shade for his work.
This is Picasso’s painting without form.