Lobster and Cat attests to the artist’s unbreakable energy during the last few years of his life. The oil painting demonstrates Pablo Picasso’s skill at depicting apparently humorous subjects in a serious manner: both animals are, potentially, as innocent as they are dangerous. The cat looks threatening, and is confronted by a crustacean in attack mode. Some art critics point out that the subject’s predecessor was La Raie (The Skate, 1728, Musée du Louvre, Paris), by French artist Jean-Baptiste-Simeón Chardin.
The surprising thing about Picasso’s painting is that he is able to retain the humorous anecdote of an eighteenth-century painting while focussing on and highlighting the encounter between the cat and the lobster, in an effective metaphor of aggression and defence, both provoked by fear. Picasso worked a number of times on transforming the monumental to the miniature, the trifling to the significant, and vice versa.
Lobster and Cat became part of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum collection in 1991 thanks to the legacy of Hilde Thannhauser, the second wife of Justin K. Thannhauser, who had worked with his father, Heinrich, at the famous Munich gallery that bore his name. Strong supporters of the Avant-garde art movement with their excellent and eclectic programme of exhibitions, the Thannhausers put on the first major Pablo Picasso retrospective in 1913, at their Moderne Galerie. This was the start of a close relationship between Justin K. Thannhauser and the artist which was to last until Picasso’s death in 1973. The top left-hand corner of Lobster and Cat carries a dedication, “Pour Justin”, signed by his “ami”, Picasso. Under the terms of the Thannhauser legacy, the holdings are to be on display almost permanently in the galleries devoted to the collection at the museum building in New York. This is why Lobster and Cat has very rarely been seen outside New York.
A renowned French artist of the 18th Century, Chardin was well known for his still-life works and genre paintings. His refined and realistic style had a lasting influence on some of the greatest artists of the 19th and 20th Centuries, including Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954), Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906), and of course, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). His depictions were of simple subjects, but masterful in their execution.