The ancient shores of the French Riviera have always held great attraction for Picasso. After his first visit to Juan-les-Pins in 1920, he often returned there to spend the season, combining recreation with work. The summer before the outbreak of World War II he stayed at Antibes, where in August he painted a remarkable visionary life-size canvas, Night Fishing at Antibes (page 263). Sabartés, who was with him in those anxious days, has described the unusual method Picasso adopted for this painting. He began by covering three walls of his studio with canvas, and trimmed it down to size only after he had painted it.
The monumental composition shows two girls standing on a stone jetty at the right; one of them is holding a bicycle and eating an ice cream cone. To the left of these girls, who are painted in somewhat smaller scale, two fishermen in a boat are spearing fish by the light of a lantern. The fantastic charm of this nocturne is based on the felicitous combination of the effects of light with nocturnal colors, ranging from black, through blue, various ghostly greens, and a murky brown, to a dark violet. This violet, which is used for the view of the town and Castle of Antibes in the upper left-hand corner of the picture, here strikes for the first time, on the eve of the war, a coloristic note that will recur many times in the oppressive years to come. The pale flesh color of the human figures glows between the warm radiance of the lamps and the cool brightness of the fish. The coloring clearly reveals the Spaniard; the magic light suggests the inspiration of El Greco; the singleness of mood is compelling; figures and landscape are in perfect harmony. Among Picasso's few nocturnes one, dating from 1951, represents his garden at Vallauris; it too combines artifical illumination and starlight.
In the summer of 1946, Picasso went from Ménerbes to La Garoupe, where he stayed at a friend's villa. On September 8, during one of his visits to the bcach of Golfe Juan, he met Dor de la Souchére, director of the museum of Antibes. This proved to be a historic meeting. De la Souchére expressed a desire to have something of Picasso's in his museum, and the artist, in a pleasant mood, immediately agreed. The result was' one of the happiest, most productive, and ingratiating
(p. 263) Night Fishing at Antibes 1939