Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973): Night Fishing at Antibes (Pêche de nuit à Antibes), 1939. Oil on canvas, 6’ 9” x 11’ 4” (205.8 x 345.4 cm). Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA. © This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.
‘In “Night Fishing at Antibes,” we’re looking at a night scene of two men fishing in a boat. And there’s a figure crouching with a spear, wearing a blue striped shirt, an article of clothing that’s often identified with Picasso himself. So, it’s a code for the artist’s persona.
In addition to that, his companion, to the left, is looking, peering deep into the water over the side of the boat, and he has this hairy mane and patch of hair on top of his head that suggests the mythological character of the minotaur, with whom Picasso also relates in his career, a character that is out of Greek mythology, that recurs in his early work through the late ’30s.
In the upper left corner of the painting are these purplish rocks, which also suggest architecture. And these wonderful twinkling stars in the sky that we follow around clockwise to the other side of the bay lead us to two women who are watching the men fish. One of them is the artist Dora Maar, Picasso’s then-companion. And one is eating an ice cream cone, a two-scoop ice cream cone, and holding her bike, while the other seems to be waving for their attention.
“Night Fishing at Antibes” is an important painting in Picasso’s career, if only for the fact that it’s the first major painting that he made after his great Spanish Civil War protest, “Guernica.” Here we have two men in the evening who are plumbing the depths of a different world, of a different realm, the underworld, in fact. The painting suggests that there are really important themes that he’s dealing with that have to do perhaps with the Spanish Civil War about mortality, about his own mortality cycles of life and death.’ (Michael Rooks, Wieland Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; www.high.org)