National Gallery of Modern Art Acquires Rare Picasso Collage

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art announced the acquisition of a ground-breaking and exceptionally rare Cubist collage by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). This landmark purchase was made thanks to an enormously generous legacy made by Henry and Sula Walton and joins a large Cubist drawing by Picasso, acquired last year through the Walton Fund.

Bottle and Glass on a Table (1912) depicts a stylised glass and bottle standing on a table. The bottle is composed of a piece of French newspaper, Le Journal of 3 December 1912 (a pre-War French publication). The cutting features part of an advertisement for Quaker Oats, and another for cherry brandy. Stencilled letters in Indian ink spell out ‘OLD / JA / R’ – shorthand for Old Jamaica Rum. Charcoal, ink and pencil compose the rest of this schematized work.

Collage, in which real objects are stuck onto a picture, is perhaps the single most radical and important development in twentieth-century art. Rather than painting or drawing or copying something, an artist could instead simply cut it out of a newspaper or magazine and stick it on a picture. In one step, collage revolutionised the practice of art. The collage technique has been central to the work of many of the most celebrated modern artists, and modern movements, including Dada, Surrealism and Pop Art.

Late in 1912, Georges Braque – the French painter who, along with Picasso, developed Cubism – made a few drawings which incorporated collaged pieces of printed paper. His great friend Picasso saw these and in December 1912 made a group of collages, mostly involving newspaper. About thirty of these pasted paper collages survive, almost all of them in major museum collections such as the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the Musée Picasso, Paris. Only two or three remain in private hands. These works – which in themselves have been the central subject of books and exhibitions – mark the start of what has been called the ‘pasted-paper revolution’.

The work marks a landmark in Picasso’s career: it is the only newspaper collage by the artist to feature such stencilling, and indeed seems to be his first ever use of stencilled lettering. Like collage, the use of words in pictures signalled a major revolution in art: instead of copying an image, an artist could instead write its name on the picture.

Bottle and Glass on a Table is part of a small group of newspaper collages by Picasso which are landmarks in the history of modern art. Instead of the Renaissance ideal of creating an illusion of depth, collage offers a new approach to the presentation of space and reality. Picasso’s cubist work dates from about 1907 to 1915. Part of the impetus behind Cubism comes from the desire to view an object from different sides, and re-compose these different views in a single picture. Cubism is arguably the most important development in art since the Renaissance, and its influence on art and design can hardly be over-estimated.

Henry Walton (1924-2012) was Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of International Medical Education at the University of Edinburgh; Sula Wolff (1924-2009) was the author of internationally acclaimed books on child psychiatry. Not only did they bequeath their art collection to the Gallery, but they also established the Henry and Sula Walton charitable Fund, specifically to help the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art make new and important acquisitions. Henry and Sula Walton were particularly passionate about Picasso’s work, assembling a collection of more than a dozen prints by the artist.

Simon Groom, Director of the Gallery of Modern Art, commented: “Henry and Sula Walton were particularly passionate about Picasso’s work, assembling a collection of more than a dozen of his prints, which they bequeathed to us. This is a stunning new acquisition, the kind of work that any of the world’s great museums would love to have. In this small group of newspaper collages, Picasso turned centuries of tradition upside-down, and the reverberations are still being felt in the art of today. Together with the drawing we acquired last year, a collage of 1913 and a painting of the same period, we now have a superb collection of Picasso’s Cubist work.”

Bottle and Glass on a Table was acquired at auction earlier this year, having been in a private collection in Sweden for more than forty years. It is now hanging in Room 16 at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One), alongside other Cubist works from the collection. The Gallery now boasts a world-class group of works by Picasso. The collage relates to several works by Picasso already in the collection: a collage Head, 1913; the large Weeping Woman etching of 1937; and the charcoal drawing Head, 1912, acquired by the Gallery in 2014.

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