After Pablo Picasso
"Le Repas des Enfants"
gemmail stained glass panel
signed in glass lower right.
40" x 53-1/2", framed 48" x 61-1/2"
Provenance: Private collection, Nice, France; Private collection, New York, New York.
Notes: The stunning glass art of gemmail is very rare, and by proxy, it is overlooked. The genre that flourished in the mid-20th century largely due to Pablo Picasso's avid endorsement of the medium that attracted the attention of notable celebrities with the means to purchase them, such as the Emperor of Japan, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Nelson Rockefeller, the Rothschilds and the Weisweillers."Le Repas des Enfants (The Children's Meal)" is the third known gemmail work to be offered at auction. These works are so unique that this lot was first thought to be a pate-de-verre when it was evaluated in 2010 at Sotheby's, New York; and the Evansville Museum in Evansville, Indiana, did not realize they owned a gemmail by Picasso for sixty-one years until a New York auction house traced the provenance of "Femme Assise au Chapeau Rouge (Woman Seated with a Red Hat)" to the industrial designer Raymond Lowery, who donated the work to the museum in 1961.
Gemmail, a compound word meaning "enameled gem" (gemme + email), known also in the plural as gemmaux, is a mid-20th century technique for creating 3D glass art that is designed to be viewed in front of a light box or illuminated from behind. French painter Jean Crotti invented the technique in the 1930s and perfected the process over the next twenty years through the assistance of his neighbor and business associates- the Malherbe-Navarre family (father and two sons), who were physicists that specialized in the molecular diffusion of light and fluorescence. In the early 1950s, they patented the idea and opened a production studio, "Les Gemmaux de France." Whereas stained glass proper uses lead came to join the pieces of glass, creating metal divisions (tracery)between them, gemmail is a more holistic process whereby multiple fragments of glass in varying sizes, shapes and colors are layered on a large piece of clear glass and then immersed in a special enamel solution to set the composition. The work is then placed in a low fire kiln that allows the pieces to bond, but not melt, creating a translucent painting that retains the clarity and superposition of the fragments.
Pablo Piccasso was immediately enamored by gemmail when fellow artist Jean Cocteau introduced him to it in 1954, and began experimenting with the process and collaboratively working with Crotti and the Malherbe-Navarres. Between 1954 and the first Picasso retrospective exhibition in 1957, Picasso authorized Les Gemmaux to reproduce sixty of his masterpieces, twenty of which were exhibited two years later in the first American exhibition of gemmaux.
When "Le Repas des Enfants" was evaluated in 2010 by Picasso's son, Claude, he stated that while the work was indeed a gemmail piece after his father's 1953 painting, he could not ascertain if the work was authorized by his father through Les Gemmaux as the records are incomplete. Gemmail pieces are typically signed before they are fired, so if "Le Repas des Enfants" was not produced by the Malherbe-Navarres on behalf of Picasso, then by whom? Of the sixty known works Les Gemmaux produced for Picasso, only the location of a handful are known, most remain in private collections. Is this stunning work of gemmail another discovery?